At colleges and universities across America, innovative research funded with your tax dollars may be stolen by researchers who are actually foreign spies. The National Institutes of Health, which hands out billions of dollars in grants each year, has warned of systematic efforts by foreigners to divert intellectual property. Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is pushing for better vetting.
Senator Chuck Grassley: Number one, some people do research in American institutions strictly to spy for their country— to either get national security or for intellectual property, anyway, it's wrong. There's billions of federal dollars go for research, whether it's NIH, I suppose is where we're most concerned about, but it could be other agencies as well. They have a responsibility, particularly the money goes from, let's say, a federal bureaucracy to an institution of higher learning to do the research. They have a responsibility to vet these people and know that they are here for just research and that they aren't going to share the research, make sure that they can be trusted. They should be vetted accordingly. They aren't, in too many instances, they aren't vetted properly. So we're having our intellectual property stolen. We may be affecting our national security and giving information to other countries about that or our plans. The federal bureaucracies like the NIH that puts the money out, they have a responsibility to make sure that the universities are vetting these researchers in a proper way.
Sharyl: Are there any particular countries of concern, more so than others?
Sen. Grassley: My suspicion is China, but I wouldn't want to limit it to just China.
In 2013, foreign researchers at an American university were charged with conspiring to steal research for the benefit of the Chinese government. The foreigners were funded by a multi-million-dollar grant of US tax dollars from the National Institutes of Health. Last year, the NIH was reportedly conducting investigations into several cases where researchers receiving federal tax money may have failed to disclose their financial ties to foreign governments.
Sharyl: There was a recent IG report from HHS on all of this. Do you know what it concluded?
Sen. Grassley: Yeah, it concluded that there wasn't proper vetting. The integrity of the program wasn't being protected. And that there was actually spying going on.
Sharyl: What is the risk to the American public if proper vetting isn't done?
Sen. Grassley: I can't quantify it, but we know that there's been intellectual property stolen, so that affects the people that own the intellectual property. It discourages further research, and in some instances, it may affect the national security of our country.
Sharyl: Do you get the sense that someone is working on this issue, that it's going to get fixed?
Sen. Grassley: I think that Congressional oversight starts it. My work, your work, working together, I hope changes the behavior of bureaucrats. The behavior is just do your job, because if you aren't vetting, the integrity of the program is in jeopardy. Taxpayers' money's being wasted. Our research is being stolen. National security might be affected. Just do your job.
The National Institutes of Health has convened a panel to crack down on research security and enforce rules that researchers disclose foreign ties.