Globalization has its benefits but, after COVID, it might be time to consider just how much of America’s economic activity we want to continue to share with other countries.
Is it too much to ask to have safeguards put in place so that American firms employing American workers reap the benefits of cutting-edge technologies developed in America using American taxpayer dollars?
Is that protectionist? Some free-market purists probably will say it is. For the rest of us, the idea the government spends our money to develop technologies that could change the world for the better and then lets other countries like China commercialize them makes us wonder whether the folks in Washington are working for us or against us.
Examples of this mule-headed thinking are everywhere. Take the effort to make America go green. The research dollars put into it, billions of your tax dollars at last count, have generated interesting results. One of them, the vanadium redox flow battery (or VRFB) developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at a cost of $15 million could be a significant boon to the emerging electric vehicle industry if the technology proves out.
If it does, it will be a big deal. Those who follow such developments closely say the batteries look as though they could last as much as 30 years without their capacity to be charged and recharged degrading in any significant way, making them much more practical for use in the transportation sector.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as President Joe Biden reminded us recently in another context. Unfortunately for us all, and thanks to the U.S. Department of Energy, the table on which developers will feast on the batteries is being set in Beijing.
That’s not a misprint. Despite licensing agreements that specified the work to move these batteries past the developmental stage would be done in America by an American firm, the Energy Department allowed it to be transferred to a business operating in the People’s Republic of China controlled, in one fashion or another, as most all businesses there are, by the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party.
The amount of money the United States spends each year keeping technology secrets out of the hands of America’s competitors and enemies is classified. It’s probably more than the $15 million spent to develop the batteries, but why spend anything at all to stop the transfer of sensitive technologies to countries like China if we’re just going to give it to them in the end?
Predictably, the people who hold the purse strings aren’t happy. After news of this technology production transfer broke, two high-ranking Republican senators – Joni Ernst of Iowa and John Barraso of Wyoming – have asked Teri Donaldson, the DOE’s inspector general, for answers to questions we all should be asking.
Specifically, Barrasso and Ernest want Donaldson to explain just how it is that – referring to a report by National Public Radio, a news agency partially funded by the U.S. government – the Energy Department could have committed such an “overt dereliction of duty” by allowing the technology to be handed over to the Chinese. They also ask, and this will probably hit close to home not just at DOE but inside the White House, whether what has been reported by NPR is “emblematic of a department that routinely and flippantly permits government-funded technology to be transferred to China.”
This is both a national and economic security issue. China, as it has established for all to see, is not America’s ally. It is, at best, a competitor that would if it could, cheerfully assume the position of global leader on issues from advanced technology development to zoo maintenance. They have no interest in being first among equals – or even second. They want to run the whole shebang and think we are the only thing standing in the way.
For a while, we were. Whether we’ll continue to do so is something that needs to be addressed, now. There is too much riding on the answer to ignore the question.
Peter Roff is a media fellow at the Trans-Atlantic Leadership Network, a former columnist for U.S. News and World Report, and senior political writer for United Press International. Contact Roff at RoffColumns@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @TheRoffDraft