March 07,2019

Grassley: NIH Failure to Consider Risks from Foreign Exposure Alarming

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa today released the following statement regarding a Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report publicly released March 6, 2019 that Grassley originally received on February 13, 2019 under restricted status.
The report found that “NIH did not consider the risk presented by foreign [principal investigators] when permitting access to United States genomic data [and] has not assessed the risks to national security when permitting data access to foreign [principal investigators].”
“The inspector general’s finding that NIH didn’t consider risks posed by foreign individuals when allowing access to sensitive information is alarming,” Grassley said. “National security is the primary concern of the federal government, and that should inform every decision at every department and agency. I appreciate the inspector general’s candid assessment. Only by bringing light to these issues will there ever be accountability. Foreign governments and non-state actors are attempting to exploit our weaknesses at every turn. NIH needs to be more vigilant against this very real threat and I intend to follow-up on these and related issues.”
The HHS OIG recommended that NIH work with national security experts to safeguard data and strengthen internal security controls and training, among other recommendations. The full report can be found here.

For some time, Grassley has been pressing the NIH to take seriously foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research and American intellectual property. Grassley also wrote to the HHS OIG on January 17, 2019 requesting actions the OIG has taken with respect to threats to research integrity. Grassley has also pressed NIH directly for transparency on its handling of foreign threats in the research grant process. Last year, Grassley received a letter from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in response to his October 23, 2018 inquiry into NIH’s vetting processes regarding foreign actors and public grants, as well as the steps NIH has taken to ensure the integrity of taxpayer funded research in light of foreign threats.