Justice Department Updates Research Security Policy

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced updates to federal policies regarding academic research security. Notably, the “China Initiative” meant to coordinate the federal response to national security threats posed by the Chinese government is being reformed; the name is now retired, and the DOJ will take a broader approach that better considers the range of potential threats while avoiding stifling research collaborations.  

“We have heard concerns from the civil rights community that the ‘China Initiative’ fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias. To many, that narrative suggests that the Justice Department treats people from China or of Chinese descent differently. The rise in anti-Asian hate crime and hate incidents only heightens these concerns. The Department is keenly aware of this threat and is enhancing efforts to combat acts of hate. These efforts are reflected in the Attorney General’s memorandum issued last year following the enactment of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.”

– Matthew Olsen, United States Assistant Attorney General for National Security

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen emphasized that the Chinese government poses a unique threat but underscored the need to balance security concerns with our ability “to attract the best and brightest researchers and scholars to our country from all around the world” and maintain our commitment to international collaboration. He reported that, going forward, cases involving academic integrity and research security will be supervised by the Department’s National Security Division to provide an added layer of oversight.

Olsen added that new guidance from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy gives funding agencies primary responsibility for research integrity and security and provides procedures to correct inaccurate or incomplete prior disclosures. He made it clear that if “individuals voluntarily correct prior material omissions and resolve related administrative inquiries, this will counsel against a criminal prosecution under longstanding department principles of prosecutorial discretion.”