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Former U.S. Officials Lobby for China’s Dystopian DNA-Sequencing Champion | National Review


The U.S. government has accused BGI Genomics, the Chinese DNA-sequencing giant, of playing a role in Beijing’s atrocities against Uyghurs, fueling the Chinese Communist Party’s mass-surveillance programs, and acting as a “Chinese military company.” None of that has stopped former U.S. officials from choosing to represent it, though.

I have a story on the homepage today about the Capitol Hill fight surrounding a provision that would prohibit federal agencies from entering into contracts with BGI. Apparently understanding this to be a threat to its access to a lucrative market, BGI and its U.S. subsidiary, Complete Genomics, have hired lobbyists from Steptoe & Johnson and the Vogel Group, respectively, to oppose the bill. Neither firm responded to my requests for comment.

One thing that I didn’t get into in the piece is the prevalence of former U.S. government officials, from both the executive branch and Congress, on those lobbying teams. According to mandatory disclosures filed with the Senate, there are several former officials on Steptoe’s BGI team, and they described their previous work in government on the disclosure form as follows:

  • Nick Sutter: Professional Staff Member, Senate Energy Committee; Professional Staff Member, Senate Small Business Committee; Legislative Correspondent, Senator Maria Cantwell; Intern, Senate Rules Committee
  • Jeffrey Weiss: Asst. Leg. Adv. U.S. Mission to the WTO (2001-2004); Asst. Gen. Counsel/Sr. Dir. USTR (2004-2011); Assoc. Admin. OMB (2011-2013); Dep. Dir. U.S. DoC (2013-2017)
  • Luis Fortuno: Governor of Puerto Rico (2009-12), Representative in US Congress (2005-08)
  • Elizabeth Burks: COS, Sen. Blanche Lincoln; COS, Rep Jim Turner

There’s one former official on the Vogel Group’s Complete Genomics team: James Lai, former staff assistant, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

There’s no legal prohibition that bars former U.S. officials from lobbying for companies enmeshed within China’s military-civil fusion system. Numerous staffers, congressmen, and former national-security officials have lobbied for companies linked to America’s primary geopolitical adversary — including firms that the U.S. government assesses to be Chinese military companies.

It’s lucrative work for the lobbyists involved. BGI paid Steptoe $270,000 just for its work in the third quarter of 2023, while the Vogel Group’s work generated $150,000 (the fourth quarter has not yet ended). It’s lucrative work, but it comes with reputational costs: They’re lobbying on behalf of an entity that reportedly does research on Uyghur and Tibetan DNA for the benefit of the People’s Liberation Army.



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