A tip of the hat to Forbes’ William Pentland for noticing a significant two-sentence clause in the 2011 spending bill approved by Congress in mid-April: Two major federally funded science programs, NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), are expressly prohibited from using federal funds to collaborate with China. Though the restriction applies only to the 2011 federal budget, the Congressman who inserted the clause into the bill, Virginia Republican Frank Wolf, says that he wants to make it permanent.
Here’s what the bill says: NASA and the OSTP cannot use federal funds “to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company.”
Here’s Wolf, mincing no words in an interview with Science Insider:
“China is spying against us, and every U.S. government agency has been hit by cyberattacks,” says Wolf in explaining why he opposes any collaboration with the Chinese government. “They are stealing technology from every major U.S. company. They have taken technology from NASA, and they have hit the NSF computers. … You name the company, and the Chinese are trying to get its secrets.”
The Obama administration has found a possible loophole, however, asserting that NASA and the OSTP can still collaborate with Chinese agencies provided that that collaboration falls under the umbrella of “the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.” In 1979, the U.S. and China signed a landmark pact called the Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology, which established relationships between the two nations’ scientific communities that have persisted for the past three decades. Arguably, backpedaling from that agreement could jeopardize Sino-American relations, so Obama’s ability to sidestep the GOP restrictions on NASA and the OSTP could still be great.
But one Republican Congressman from Texas warned that if NASA still collaborated with China using this loophole, the consequences could be dire: John Culberson said that per the terms of the federal funding bill as written, NASA and the OSTP would be “endangering [their] funding” if they worked with any Chinese agencies this fiscal year using federal funds.