Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today released the following statement regarding reports that Charles Lieber, the head of Harvard University’s chemistry department, was arrested on charges of allegedly lying to the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health regarding ties to the Chinese communist government.
“Americans have invested billions of dollars in scientific research through direct funding and the tax code. Taxpayers deserve to know that those resources are kept safe and not stolen or misused by foreign organizations or governments,” Grassley said. “I’m glad the FBI appears to be taking foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research seriously, but I fear that this case is only the tip of the iceberg. For years, the Chinese communist government has taken advantage of our educational and research system that encourages collaboration, openness and the sharing of information. This is a concerted effort. At the very least, individuals conducting research within the United States should be required to disclose any foreign ties, especially if taxpayers are footing the bill. I’ll continue to conduct oversight and explore legislative opportunities to ensure American research institutions are protected.”
Grassley led a hearing last June regarding foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research and has been a leading advocate for oversight opportunities and policy solutions, particularly with respect to Chinese influence at leading U.S. educational and research institutions and theft of intellectual property. At the hearing, Grassley said, “…people deserve to know how the government is working to protect that research and the resulting intellectual property from foreign threats. We know that China is by far the most prolific offender…”
Grassley is a leading voice in the effort to protect the integrity of taxpayer-funded research. Grassley began looking into foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research in October 2018 with a letter to the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Grassley continued to seek further information from NIH after retaking the helm of the Finance Committee at the beginning of last year. Following his inquiries, NIH research projects were referred to the NIH inspector general for their failure to disclose foreign affiliations. The HHS OIG released a report on the failure of NIH to consider the risks posed by providing foreign individuals access to sensitive information.
Grassley also wrote to the HHS OIG on January 17, 2019 requesting actions the OIG has taken with respect to threats to research integrity. Last September, Grassley called for immediate action on three HHS OIG reports that raised concern about NIH research oversight.
In August of last year, Grassley sent a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States requesting that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) perform a review of how the federal government is implementing conflict-of-interest policies in taxpayer-supported research and what updates should be made by the executive branch to shore up its ability to detect and deter foreign threats to research. GAO has agreed to perform such a review.
Grassley has also extensively probed grant integrity at the National Science Foundation.
Grassley is also probing foreign threats to Department of Defense (DoD) research, finding that DoD does not vet all researchers working on taxpayer-funded projects, as well as numerous other failures in due diligence.
Grassley has also written to the Justice Department about concerns relating to Confucius Institutes and their abuse of our academic environment and why they have not registered as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Grassley has written that even his home state of Iowa is not immune to foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research.