GOP Senators Oppose Amnesty for Researchers Funded by Foreign Powers

GOP Senators Oppose Amnesty for Researchers Funded by Foreign Powers marco rubio speaks at hearing Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Friday, 07 May 2021 10:26 AM

A group of Republican senators oppose a Department of Justice effort to give amnesty to researchers funded by foreign sources, according to a letter sent this week to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The senators' missive followed a January report about the amnesty program in The Wall Street Journal.

In their letter, the senators wrote that "America’s successful research enterprise is built on reciprocity, integrity, and transparency" and fosters "a free exchange of ideas and ensure that researchers and institutions receive the benefit of hard work."

"As a result, America attracts the best and brightest. It needs to stay that way," the senators told Garland in the May 5 letter, according to The Epoch Times. "But the United States must also take reasonable steps to protect taxpayer-funded research from theft, diversion, and ultimately weaponization against our own long-term national interests.

"This is a complex problem, but an amnesty program rewarding individuals who broke federal law to steal U.S. taxpayer-funded research is simply not the answer."

The letter was signed by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Todd Young, R-Ind., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

The senators also registered disapproval with the DOJ for how the legislators say the department has gone about its business regarding the program.

"DOJ has not consulted with Congress on this amnesty program," the letter said. "It is also our understanding that DOJ did not properly consult with the relevant Inspector General community.

"Inspectors General from large grant-making agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, are on the frontlines of combating grant fraud by corrupt researchers seeking to take advantage of the openness and funding that the U.S. research enterprise provides."

The senators requested a briefing "detailing the scope, nature, and timeline of DOJ’s amnesty program by no later than May 12."

A DOJ spokesman had not responded to a request for comment by The Epoch Times.

In recent months, more than a dozen cases have been filed by the DOJ against researchers who failed to disclose their foreign funding sources for projects that included sensitive U.S. technologies. Several projects involved China.

The senators said they were concerned "about the effect that this amnesty program will have on those ongoing criminal cases and the signal that it sends to future researchers contemplating breaking U.S. law to steal research or hide affiliations with foreign governments or militaries."

One example given by the senators involved Dr. Gang Chen, an MIT professor who was indicted for failing to disclose "various appointments with the [People's Republic of China] … often in exchange for financial compensation."

Chen "was serving in several advisory roles for the PRC and PRC entities [when he] applied for and obtained a U.S. Department of Energy grant in order to fund a portion of his research at MIT."

The Epoch Times previously reported Chen "has pleaded not guilty and is supported by MIT [and] is not the only prominent academic figure to be arrested and charged with failing to disclose connections to Chinese research institutes."

The senators also said they are worried the DOJ program will hurt recent efforts by Congress and the Trump administration to prevent Chinese theft of U.S. research and technology.

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