NAICU Washington Update

House Research Investment and Security Bill Ready for Action

January 28, 2022

The House of Representatives getting ready to take up legislation from multiple committees aimed at investing in research, innovation, manufacturing, and technology, while also ensuring the security of American innovation and protecting against adverse foreign influence.

The House plans to consider the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (America COMPETES) next week. This bill is the companion legislative package to the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USCIA), which passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote last summer. Both chambers have been negotiating the contents of these bills as they have moved through the process so the bipartisan package should pass Congress soon. 

For higher education, America COMPETES authorizes, but does not appropriate, funding increases for research across multiple government agencies to support cutting-edge scientific research and innovation to keep the United States globally competitive. There is a particular emphasis on funding to the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

The bill also includes reauthorization of Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which focuses on international education programs and is supported by the higher education community. Title VI programs fund foreign language and culture studies in areas of national need at colleges and universities across the country. 

To combat concerns with foreign influence in academia, the House bill makes changes to Higher Education Act (HEA) Section 117 Reporting of Foreign Gifts, and Section 124 Institutional Policy Regarding Foreign Gifts to Faculty and Staff, but is not as strict as the Senate bill. 

For Section 117, America COMPETES modifies the Senate restrictions by changing the threshold for institutional reporting from $50,000 in the Senate, to $100,000 in any given year, and $250,000 over three years. Section 117 has been the law for decades, with current reporting required for institutions receiving $250,000 per year in foreign gifts or contracts. 

Section 124 is newly created by the Senate bill and requires faculty and staff engaged in research and development to disclose any gifts or contracts from a foreign source. Institutions must have a policy requiring faculty and staff to disclose the information, maintain a searchable database of such information for five years, and have a plan to identify and manage potential foreign espionage targeting research faculty and staff. The House bill changes the threshold for institutions subject to the Section 124 requirement from $5 million in research funding to $50 million in federal science and engineering funding in any of the previous five years; and sets the value of the gift or contract that must be disclosed at $50,000 or more. 

Both bills impose new restrictions on institutions running Confucius Institutes (CI).  Specifically, the bills would: require institutions to seek a waiver from the Department of Education to receive any other non-Title IV funding; prohibit the application of foreign law on campus; ensure the protection of academic freedom on the campus; and grant full control of the CI to the institution.  If the institution receives a waiver from the Department of Defense based on the agency’s review of the institution’s memorandum of understanding, it does not have to apply for a waiver from the Education Department. 

As an alternative to Confucius Institutes, the bill authorizes $10 million to establish the Liu Xiaobo Fund for Study of the Chinese Language through the Department of State. Named for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights activist, this new fund is seen as a way to provide Chinese language and culture education at U.S. colleges and universities without the involvement of the Chinese government. 

The House bill does not include the provision in the Senate bill regarding the expansion of oversight from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) over foreign gifts and contracts to colleges and universities of over $1 million. CFIUS reviews foreign investments in the U. S. for possible national security concerns. 

Next Steps

The House and Senate will need to work out its differences, as America COMPETES and USICA are not identical bills. There is some pressure to complete the conference quickly, because the draft FY 2022 appropriations bill includes placeholder funding for some of the agencies targeted for increases in this authorizing legislation.  The next deadline for finishing appropriations is February 18, when the current continuing resolution expires.

MORE News from NAICU