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House Select Committee begins query into Chinese interference in public research

The group will investigate Chinese involvement with UF and Moffitt.

The House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions kicked off Tuesday with its first meeting as the day was wrapping up in Tallahassee.

House Speaker Jose Oliva convened the committee to investigate foreign interference in United States publicly funded research, particularly by China.

Oliva launched the committee in response to situations at two Florida research institutions, Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls is chairing the committee. Other members include Reps. Tom Leek, Fentrice Driskell, Bruce Antone, Colleen Burton, Brad Drake, Joseph Geller, Erin Grall, Blaise Ingoglia, Cary Pigman, Sharon Pritchett and Will Robinson.

The committee’s first hearing was procedural and set the stage for an ongoing investigation.

Sprowls warned members not to expect a clear ending to the investigation. They should be open minded and go where the uncovered information leads, he said.

“It is my sincere hope that the incidents we have discovered to date will prove to be the exception not the rule,” Sprowls said. “But we must be prepared to bring the full force of the legislature to bare.”

Sprowls and committee staff have already requested related documents from both Moffitt and UF, which are due back before the end of the month. The committee has also sent a series of questions to both institutions and will follow up as more information becomes available.

Members of the committee presented results from two investigations at the research institutions.

The Moffitt investigation found that several Moffitt leaders and researchers, including its former CEO Alan List, violated numerous policies and federal grant standards including by receiving personal payments from the Chinese Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital without disclosing payments, agreeing to devote substantial personal time to the activities that conflict with required at Moffitt, receiving personal payments and research support without disclosing it as required as part of a federal grant application, receiving personal cash and travel benefits without reporting them to Moffitt and opening personal bank accounts in China to receive unreported funds.

Despite the wrong doings, there is currently no evidence that intellectual property at Moffitt was stolen or that patient care was compromised.

The investigation at UF led to three researchers resigning and another fired. Three of the four are outlined in the UF investigation. None are named in public documents.

The individual fired held an appointment with a Chinese university since at least 2017 and did not disclose his affiliation to the National Institutes of Health and received a Chinese Thousand Talents award, an award the federal government believes may be cover for Chinese efforts to pilfer intellectual property from U.S. research institutes. The fired individual did not disclose the award to NIH.

The individual also received at least one undisclosed grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

The UF investigation also found that the individual may have inappropriately allocated NIH grant funds.

Another individual who resigned when they learned of the university’s investigation reportedly served as a top executive for a Chinese university and participated in recruitment efforts for China and had several other affiliations with the Chinese government that were not disclosed to UF or the NIH.

The third individual was also selected for China’s talent program and may have received a stipend from the Chinese government and that the individual owns a China-based company, which he also did not disclose.

Federal investigations into the individuals are ongoing.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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