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— White House zeroes in on chip supply: The Biden administration is unveiling a slate of new efforts to boost the U.S.’ semiconductor supply and supercharge high-tech manufacturing.
— Brussels bustles with tech regs: Capitol Hill and the U.S. tech industry are reacting with concern to the sharp ramp-up in EU efforts to regulate American tech companies.
— R&D security shakeup: Congress is tightening restrictions on foreign researchers just as the Department of Justice drops a program that had targeted Chinese scientists.
IT’S THURSDAY, FEB. 24. Welcome to Morning Tech. Late last night, news broke of explosions in Ukraine, just after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared what he described as a “special military operation” — and which the White House labeled an “unprovoked and unjustified attack.” Tech policy may feel small in comparison, but it remains vitally important — we’ll be here to cover it, today and every day, through this crisis.
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EXIM BANK TASKED WITH CHIP SUPPORT: A White House report released early this morning — the one-year anniversary of Biden’s Executive Order 14017 on global supply chains — lays out some high-level tasks and priorities the administration expects to accomplish on tech policy over the following 12 months. Among the new initiatives, per a White House fact sheet:
— EXIM Bank takes on microchips: An ongoing global semiconductor shortage has stunted manufacturing in the U.S., particularly in the automobile industry. Now the U.S. Export-Import Bank, America’s official export credit agency, is being tapped to run a new domestic manufacturing initiative promoting U.S. exports in a slew of high-tech fields. The White House highlighted semiconductors and advanced batteries as areas where EXIM will be expected to provide financing priority. (EXIM already has some limited experience financing chip-related projects — including through the relatively new Program on China and Transformational Exports, an effort specifically designed to counter Chinese efforts in emerging technologies.) The White House said EXIM will vote on the measure “this spring.”
— Speaking of chips: The White House fact sheet also touts the “more than $200 billion in investments for semiconductor, electric vehicle, and battery manufacturing” made since Biden took office, and urges Congress to enact the “historic, bipartisan COMPETES/USICA legislation” — the sprawling competitiveness bills which include $52 billion in chip subsidies.
— All about that high-tech manufacturing: The administration also said it plans to host a series of roundtables next year with industry to focus on scaling up new and emerging technologies, promoting regional workforce development and supporting small and medium-sized suppliers. And the fact sheet calls on the Small Business Administration to establish a new committee, made up of leaders in the tech industry, that can advise the government on how to help cutting-edge technologies emerge from U.S.-based startups and small businesses.
— More to come: In addition to the White House’s report, individual agencies will publish recommendations today for improving supply chains, focusing on communications technology, agriculture, defense, health care, transportation and energy.
EUROPE RACKS UP TECH REGS AS U.S. EFFORTS STALL — The European Union is lapping the United States on a slew of tech-related regulations — from data-sharing to algorithms and antitrust — as lawmakers and industry alike fret over the escalating efforts in Brussels.
— Another one: On Wednesday the European Commission rolled out the EU Data Act, a new proposal regulating to what extent tech platforms can use or share consumer data. “We want to give consumers and companies even more control over what can be done with their data, clarifying who can access data and on what terms,” EU competition head Margrete Vestager said in a statement.
There’s been an avalanche of regulatory activity in Brussels targeting the tech industry over the last few months. European negotiators have made significant progress on major proposals such as the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, which respectively aim to rein in the competitive power of dominant U.S. technology companies and cut down on the use of manipulative algorithms. Other major efforts include the nascent AI Act and the Data Governance Act, along with the escalating push by antitrust authorities in states like the Netherlands to crack down on large tech companies.
“It’s a very active agenda,” said Aaron Cooper, the head of global policy at BSA | The Software Alliance, a tech-industry trade group.
— Angst across the pond: While Congress and the Biden administration are pursuing similar efforts on nearly all of these issues, those rules are generally in much earlier stages of development and face far less certain routes to enactment.
In the meantime, the activity in Europe is making some Americans nervous. On Wednesday a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to more aggressively confront Europe on the Digital Markets Act, which they claimed engages in “de facto discrimination against U.S. firms and workers.” (More on that letter from Samuel and Leah for Pros).
Cooper said BSA and the broader global tech lobby are worried Europe’s rapid regulatory pushes will make it tougher to harmonize tech regulations in other regions of the world.
“It’s not that we don’t want Europe to be as active and engaged as they are,” Cooper said. “But we want other markets around the world that all have similar rule of law traditions to be working together so that there is interoperability between those systems.”
DOJ SHUTTERS CHINA-FOCUSED R&D SECURITY PROGRAM: A reprieve granted Wednesday to Chinese researchers operating in the U.S. could be a brief one, as Congress prepares for a conference on sprawling competitiveness bills that include tough research security provisions for foreign scientists.
— China Initiative scrapped: On Wednesday the DOJ announced it would end its China Initiative, which was meant to impede efforts by the Chinese government to steal emerging technologies and other sensitive data but which was often accused of racially profiling Chinese Americans and Chinese people living in the United States. But even as the Biden administration loosens up, Congress is preparing to tighten restrictions on foreign researchers — particularly those of Chinese origin.
— More restrictions incoming? A basket of provisions meant to crack down on espionage and theft in the R&D ecosystem is tucked into both the House’s America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521) and the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260). The Senate bill’s restrictions are particularly tough — it would ban federal funding for projects that include scientists involved in a wide range of “talent recruitment programs” with foreign governments, expand university requirements to report certain gifts and contracts to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and require the National Science Foundation to significantly increase its security efforts — including a provision requiring NSF to collect specific documentation on a broad range of interactions between scholars, universities and the Chinese government.
The bills’ R&D security provisions are “definitely a concern,” said Kevin Gardner, the head of research and innovation at the University of Louisville, in a call with reporters last week. Gardner spoke about the tough balancing act between securing research data while also seeking out and collaborating with the best and brightest global talent. “That’s the legitimate needle we’re trying to thread,” he said.
Lynne Chronister, the head of research and economic development at the University of South Alabama, said current restrictions — including the now-shuttered China Initiative — have already negatively impacted faculty at her institution.
“Among our Chinese faculty … they’re very nervousand they’re worried about being labeled if they do work with colleagues outside of the U.S.,” Chronister said.
— Bone of contention in conference: The research lobby is united in opposition to significantly tougher security restrictions — and it’s throwing its weight behind the House’s proposals, which it hopes will gain the upper hand in an eventual USICA conference. Deborah Altenberg, the head of governmental relations at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, said the Senate bill “has much broader language,” particularly when it comes to restrictions on foreign talent programs.
“We did work very specifically with the House Science Committee,” Altenburg said, praising America COMPETES for taking a “nuanced” approach that only bans researcher participation in programs determined to have “malign intent.”
Spencer Walleran antitrust professor from Loyola University Chicago, has joined the Federal Trade Commission as senior adviser to FTC Chair Lina Khan. … Aspen Strategy Group, part of the Aspen Institute, has named its 32 members of the class of 2022 for its Rising Leaders Program, among them Microsoft’s Megan O’Neill, Google’s Thao Nguyen Kelly, Carnegie Endowment’s Arthur Nelson, First In’s Brian Mongeau and Meta’s Mike Chieco. … Kate Jahries, Isha Modi and Tricia McCleary have all joined PR firm Glen Echo Group.
You’re not sly, Vlad: Bellingcat is putting together a public spreadsheet with data documenting and debunking “flagrant” disinformation efforts from Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
It’s a ducking conspiracy! The New York Times reports that DuckDuckGo — the search engine billed (get it?) as a privacy-conscious rival to Google — has become a haven for conspiracy theorists.
Relief at last: Tonga’s internet access has finally been restored, more than five weeks after an underwater earthquake and tsunami severed an underwater cable, the Associated Press reports.
Strong IP, weak IP: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out today with a new report grading the globe’s intellectual property protections and their ability to promote innovation.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), Konstantin Kakaes[email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), Brendan Bordelon ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Rebecca Kern ([email protected]) and Leah Nylen ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.