By: Dr. Eric Lander
The President’s Science Advisor and
Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
One of America’s most amazing and enviable superpowers is that we are the leading magnet for talented scientists and engineers from around the world. They come to study, to found startups, to lend their energies to U.S. scientific and technology endeavors, to start research labs, and to build ties between cultures, communities, and countries — and they become incredible members of our scientific community. For instance, of this year’s four American winners of the scientific Nobel Prizes, three immigrated to the United States.
The research security challenges we face are real and serious: some foreign governments, including China’s government, are working hard to illicitly acquire our most advanced technologies. This is unacceptable.
At the same time, if our policies to address those actions significantly diminish our superpower of attracting global scientific talent — or if they fuel xenophobia against Asian Americans — we will have done more damage to ourselves than any competitor or adversary could. So we need a thoughtful and effective approach.
In August, I announced that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would work through the National Science and Technology Council to develop the implementation guidance for National Security Presidential Memorandum-33, with the goal of providing clear and effective rules for ensuring research security and researcher responsibilities. We’re releasing that guidance today.
This implementation guidance is a product of close collaboration across the federal government, and I am immensely grateful to everyone who contributed to it — in OSTP, in fellow Cabinet departments and other federal agencies, and in the wider Executive Office of the President. I am equally grateful to the researchers and research institutions who provided vital perspectives that helped inform this effort.
The implementation guidance reflects the principles I laid out in August: to protect America’s security and openness, to be clear so that well-intentioned researchers can easily and properly comply, and to ensure that policies do not fuel xenophobia or prejudice. But there is more work ahead to fulfill these important goals.
As a next step, I am now directing federal research agencies to work together within the next 120 days to develop model grant application forms and instructions that can be used (and adapted where required) by any federal research funding agency. The goal is for the government to clearly describe what it needs to know and for researchers to be able to report the same information in the same way to the greatest extent possible, regardless of which funding agency they’re applying to. Clearly laying out the required information will ease administrative burdens on the research community, and it will also enable software developers to make tools to enable researchers to populate digital CVs from which they can readily export relevant information.
While current efforts on NSPM-33 seek to clarify and simplify how researchers disclose information to the federal government, they do not address other key questions about NSPM-33 implementation — namely, how the government uses this information in making decisions about research funding and support. Such questions are equally important, and OSTP intends to address them in the future. Where the government has legitimate concerns about a potential conflict of interest or conflict of commitment, we have a responsibility to be clear and open about what our concerns are and why. It is important to avoid undue, vague, and implicit pressures on researchers, as this could create a chilling atmosphere that would only constrain and damage the U.S. scientific enterprise.
The Biden-Harris Administration is strongly committed to both protecting research security and maintaining the core ideals behind America’s scientific leadership, including openness, transparency, honesty, equity, fair competition, objectivity, and democratic values. As we do so, we will continue to engage with the remarkable and diverse community of U.S. researchers and institutions, who enable so much of our country’s scientific progress.