House Defense Bill Includes Provisions on Academic Espionage, For-Profit Oversight
Published: July 15, 2019

The House of Representatives approved a $733 billion defense policy bill on Friday that includes provisions targeted at stemming perceived academic espionage at U.S. research universities. 

The FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed with no Republican support, defies President Trump’s veto threat by including a clampdown on funding for his wall on the Mexican border and $17 billion less in overall funding for the military. As Reuters reported, Republican opposition to the bill sets the stage for a stiff fight over its provisions that could threaten Congress’ record of passing the NDAA annually for nearly six decades.

Given the heightened concern in Congress over security and foreign influence at higher education institutions—specifically around China—lawmakers used the bill as a vehicle to approve several measures that have been floating around in recent months. 

The bill includes the Securing American Science and Technology Act​ (SASTA) of 2019, a measure that addresses academic espionage at higher education institutions and which ACE and others in the higher education community have endorsed. It also includes a requirement for the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to develop a list of foreign entities that the director determines pose a threat of research espionage. 

Among the other provisions of interest to higher education is an amendment that would increase funding for Chinese language instruction in the National Security Education Program and require that students participating in NSEP study abroad programs be trained to recognize and report foreign recruitment activity. 

On a separate note, an amendment was approved to require the Department of Defense (DOD) to list each institution that receives funds from the DOD tuition assistance program on a public website, and then audit any for-profit colleges that do not clear federal financial responsibility standards. The amendment was offered by Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), a former secretary of health and human services and president of the University of Miami.

The Senate approved its NDAA bill​​ last month, and the conference process to negotiate a final measure should begin soon. Among the key differences between the House and Senate bills, the Senate’s provides $750 billion for the Pentagon and does not include provisions designed to limit the president’s power to shift military funds for use in building the wall or to deploy troops to work on the border.

The goal is to pass final legislation in early fall.