The Defense Department appears poised to join other agencies in scrutinizing ties between U.S.-funded researchers and non-U.S. organizations. However, whether the Pentagon will adopt a confrontational or constructive approach with respect to such relationships remains to be seen.
In January, the department's Office of Inspector General announced that it would begin evaluating whether the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering is monitoring and mitigating foreign influence in the department's research-and-development programs. Although the review initially will focus on potential weaknesses in internal agency procedures and safeguards, it seems destined to result in scrutiny of at least some defense R&D funding agreements--and conceivably even enforcement actions against individual researchers.
The evaluation is expected to begin with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Defense Innovation Unit, the Missile Defense Agency and the office of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. However, additional components of the department may be added as the evaluation proceeds. In addition, a number of federally funded research-and-development centers will be subject to review.
The announcement comes amid growing concerns that the U.S. advantage in scientific and technological innovation is declining due to advances by other countries that are at times the result of targeted efforts to appropriate U.S.-funded technology. The issue was highlighted in a 2018 Defense Innovation Unit report tided, "China's Technology Transfer Strategy: How Chinese Investments in Emerging Technology Enable a Strategic Competitor to Access the Crown Jewels of U.S. Innovation."
Based on this trend, components of the U.S. government began in 2018 to publicly highlight concerns about technology transfer strategies being pursued by other countries, including systematic investments in, and collaborations with, private organizations in the United States.
These concerns soon expanded to cover connections between other governments and recipients of U.S.-funded research-and-development agreements, with a focus on issues like dual appointments and the receipt of overlapping research funding. The National Institutes of Health began systematically reviewing undisclosed ties between its recipients and non-U.S. organizations, which has led to both a number of resignations from private organizations and allegations of U.S. government...