WASHINGTON — A U.S. lawmaker has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to take action against the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), John Holdren, for engaging Chinese officials in discussions about scientific and technical cooperation in violation of a recently enacted law barring such bilateral exchanges.

“As attorney general, it is your responsibility to ensure that the nation’s laws are upheld,” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) wrote in an Oct. 13 letter. He requested that the Justice Department hold the OSTP director “to full account” for violating a provision Wolf added to a spending bill enacted in April barring OSTP and NASA from engaging with China.

In May, Holdren participated in meetings in Washington between U.S. and Chinese officials aimed in part at enabling scientific cooperation between the two nations.

Acting at Wolf’s request, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined Holdren’s participation in the May U.S.-China Dialogue on Innovation Policy and the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and concluded his actions violated the prohibition. The GAO also concluded that Holdren and OSTP violated the Anti-Deficiency Act since the prohibition — detailed in section 1340 of the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 — bars the use of OSTP funds for bilateral activities with China. The Anti-Deficiency Act makes it illegal for federal agencies to spend funds that have not been appropriated by Congress.

OSTP, according to an Oct. 11 GAO letter to Wolf, acknowledges spending $3,500 on Holdren’s participation in the meetings and on hosting a dinner for Chinese dignitaries.

OSTP maintains that it is not bound by Wolf’s provision since it interferes with the president’s constitutional authority to engage in foreign relations.

OSTP spokesman Richard Weiss declined to comment on GAO’s findings but referred Space News to a Sept. 19 Justice Department memo backing OSTP’s position.

“Most, if not all, of the activities of the Office of Science and Technology Policy that we have been asked to consider fall within the President’s exclusive power to conduct diplomacy, and OSTP’s officers and employees therefore may engage in those activities as agents designated by the President for the conduct of diplomacy,” the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote in the memo to OSTP’s general counsel.

The GAO, in its letter to Wolf, said legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president “is entitled to a heavy presumption in favor of constitutionality.”



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Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.