Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), already known as a doubter of the Big Bang theory, sits high on the list of Congressional Republicans on the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology who have no idea how science works. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Broun emphasized that point on Wednesday when he used his role to hold hearings demonstrating his unfamiliarity with how science spreads.
The hearing, titled “The Impact of International Technology Transfer on American Research and Development,” focused in particular on the transfer of technology to China by energy companies that operate there, many of whom have received tax credits or grant funding to research new sources of power. In his opening statement, Broun made sure his opinion on the Obama administration’s desire to fund alternate energy research was known:
BROUN: Time-and-time-again, we have seen U.S. R&D; investments, particularly in sectors that received favorable treatment from the current Administration like wind, solar, and batteries, simply be sent overseas. It’s a dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about — not the government agencies that fund the R&D;, not the companies that receive the R&D;, not the associations that represent the companies, and certainly not the foreign countries that benefit from our R&D; investments. Investments, I should add, that ultimately came from money we borrowed from China in the first place.
Green energy companies have been targeted in particular by the conservatives since they first became benefactors of the stimulus spending bill of 2009. During the presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney falsely claimed during a debate that over half of those companies who received federal funding went bankrupt, which was repeated by the right-wing for weeks after.
What Broun fails to address is that the transfer of technology is nothing new, particularly for those industries that aren’t prioritized as being critical to national security. In the case of the latter, laws currently exist to prevent or strictly control the spread of U.S. propitiatory technology to companies overseas. It’s laws like these that led to the break up of a Russian smuggling ring earlier this year that was laundering parts that could be used in the construction and targeting of missiles.
The spread of science in general is even more notorious for ignoring borders, regardless of the funding source. Innovations that began within the United States and based on federal funding, such as the Internet, radar, and GPS, have been utilized for the profit of foreign companies for years without hurting the United States’ overall ability to develop newer and better technologies. Broun seems instead to be suggesting clamping down on federal funding for any science that could then be proliferated to the profit of a foreign company.
In doing so, he is failing to provide a legitimate answer to a legitimate concern. In testimony from Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, President of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, the members of Congress were told that many states do require the transfer of technology to foreign-owned companies in exchange for licenses to construct or operate factories within their borders. These agreements are often to the detriment of the companies in question and can hinder competitiveness abroad. Rather than focusing on the stage of research in which funding is procured, the House would be better served determining ways to ensure a level-playing field in international trade.