On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a massive bill aimed at countering Chinese competition, a rare act of bipartisanship in politically divided Washington.
The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act
, also known as the Endless Frontier Act, contains $250 billion for research and technology. So there’s a lot for higher ed to like in it.
But when it comes to international collaboration and compliance, there are a number of provisions that could cause universities heartburn. Here’s a rundown of a few key international provisions:
As expected, the bill lowers the threshold for disclosure of foreign gifts and contracts to U..S. Department of Education to $50,000 from $250,000. But it also requires colleges to maintain a searchable database of all foreign funds and does not include a threshold amount. That potentially means every dollar a faculty member gets from abroad would have to be reported. It also creates new oversight roles for the National Science Foundation and the Office of Management and Budget.
The measure bars the recipients of federal research grants from taking part in foreign talent recruitment programs. The prohibition includes programs sponsored by Iran, North Korea, and Russia — but it’s clearly aimed at China’s controversial Thousand Talents initiative.
The bill includes two provisions on Confucius Institutes, restricting NSF and Education Department funding to colleges that host the Chinese-supported language and cultural programs. A similar limit on Defense Department spending triggered a wave of center closures, and I have a hard time imagining many colleges keeping their Confucius Institutes if this becomes law.
The act would create a sort of research-security clearinghouse to help higher ed and other sectors assess risk in overseas partnerships.
They may quibble with the details, but the university lobbyists I talked to like this proposal — one of the repeated complaints I hear from colleges is that government officials warn about the national-security risks of foreign projects but don’t provide specifics. Here’s an idea of what a clearinghouse might look like
Finally, and confoundingly, the legislation includes two completely contradictory provisions about CFIUS.
One provision would REQUIRE certain foreign gifts, contracts, or funding to colleges be approved by the interagency government panel that reviews international business deals for national-security concerns. The other PROHIBITS CFIUS from reviewing foreign funds to colleges. Yes, in the same bill. 🤦♀️
What’s next: The House could begin considering its own measures for boosting scientific competitiveness as early as this week. Exactly how this legislation will shape up and how it will square with the Senate bill is TBD.
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