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Federal agencies need to do a better job of communicating with U.S. research institutions to thwart foreign theft, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found. The report was requested by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and examined compliance with export control laws by U.S. research institutions. It also explored the need for improved federal guidance to universities on controlled data and sensitive technology that may be shipped overseas.
“I’ve been raising concerns about foreign threats to U.S. research for years, and this report just underscores the need for continued close scrutiny of the issue and a coordinated government effort to protect sensitive research and technology. Countries like China are making efforts to steal our most sensitive research and then weaponizing it against us. Universities and research institutions have a critical role to play in protecting this cutting edge research, but they can’t act if the guidance and regulations from agencies is unclear or insufficient,” Grassley said.
The GAO report found that, in order for universities to comply with relevant export controls, the Department of State and Department of Commerce should improve both their guidance and outreach to universities about these requirements. The GAO made recommendations to those agencies as well as the Department of Defense. All agencies concurred with those recommendations.
“Without additional guidance and outreach that addresses such issues, universities may not have the information they need to adequately comply with these regulations and properly safeguard export-controlled items.”
“…GAO identified gaps in some universities’ practices in four areas—risk assessments, training, internal audits, and export compliance manuals.”
Grassley has repeatedly written to federal agencies raising concerns about the threats of theft and foreign influence in U.S. research at both universities and government institutions. Last year, he convened a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the issue.
Grassley has also long warned that China leverages its presence in American colleges and universities to spread pro-China propaganda and steal intellectual property. In March, Grassley encouraged all schools with an active Confucius Institute to seek an FBI briefing on how China uses the institutes to seed pro-China sentiments within U.S. academia. In a teleconference last week with 44 schools, the FBI echoed Grassley’s warning and discussed how China is actively using its connections with U.S. research centers and potential cyber intrusions to monitor America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and research efforts to develop treatments.