Foreign Interests in Sponsored Projects

Guideline Date: October 2022
Revision: 3
Last Review: October 2022

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In recent years, the U.S. government has become increasingly concerned with inappropriate influence by foreign entities in federally-funded research. As a result, the University recognizes the need to maintain a heightened interest in understanding affiliations, collaborations, and dealings that faculty members and researchers may have with foreign entities. While we remain committed to international collaborations and research and our continued partnerships around the world, we need to mitigate any potential risk exposure. Certain bad actors have sought to exploit American academic institutions, and there have already been several reported cases of academic espionage at top U.S. universities.

The National Defense Authorization Act, signed in August 2018, included Sec. 1286, which stated that “The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with other appropriate government organizations, establish an initiative to work with academic institutions who perform defense research and engineering activities . . . to limit undue influence, including through foreign talent programs, by countries to exploit United States Technology.” The Act also prohibits the purchase of telecommunications equipment from specific Chinese companies with the use of federal funds or where federal data will be transmitted across the system.

The University remains dedicated to complying with all US regulations governing international research collaborations, and in an effort to mitigate any inherent institutional vulnerabilities and emerging threats to national security, we have developed the guidance below which should allow University researchers to continue pursuing international research collaborations while maintaining transparency and compliance with federal law.

General Guidance

In general, University researchers who conduct federally-funded research should update and maintain their current and pending support documentation to ensure that any international collaborations or affiliations are listed. Further, any sources of financial support, foreign or domestic, including fellowships, scholarships, and gifts or philanthropic donations to support research should be disclosed.

Some of the top concerns raised by federal agencies include:

  1. Failure by researchers in disclosing honorary appointments, participation in “talents” programs, or substantial financial contributions from foreign governments or agencies;
  2. Diversion of patentable inventions, or other intellectual property to foreign entities;
  3. Sharing of proprietary, confidential information including issues involving national security with foreign entities, or foreign entities otherwise attempting to influence funding decisions.

Several of our top research sponsors, including NIH, NSF, DOE, DOD, and NASA have issued agency-specific guidance on the topic of foreign influence, and we have compiled this guidance below. Please keep in mind that agency guidelines are subject to change with the regulatory landscape as this is an emerging issue. We encourage you to review funding opportunity announcements and requests for proposals thoroughly for relevant agency policies.

If you have questions about this topic, you can contact Michele Dondanville.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

As stated in the NIH Grants Policy Statement, all individuals designated as Principal Investigators (PIs), Senior or Key Personnel, must submit the Other Support Form. University researchers should be thorough and exhaustive in accounting for all forms of research support, including foreign sponsors, and philanthropic gifts.

Under the NIH Grants Policy Statement, a Foreign Component is defined as “any significant scientific element or segment of a project outside of the United States, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended.” The definition of foreign component includes “collaborations with investigators at a foreign site anticipated to result in co-authorship; use of facilities or instrumentation at a foreign site; or receipt of financial support or resources from a foreign entity.” Other sponsors have similar requirements to disclose foreign components.

There are several ways in which foreign components should be disclosed, including

  • Identifying a foreign component in an NIH grant application;
  • Listing a non-U.S. performance site;
  • Identifying foreign relationships and activities in an NIH biosketch;
  • Answering “yes” to the question on the R&R Other Project Information Form asking, “Does this project involve activities outside of the United States or partnerships with international collaborators?”

Financial resources should be disclosed even if they relate to work that is performed outside of a researcher’s appointment period. For example, if a B contract faculty member spends two months at an international institution during the summer conducting research under a foreign award, that activity should be disclosed.

PIs should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all foreign components have been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact their Sponsored Projects Pre-Award Research Administrator to make a correction.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

NASA has historically maintained restrictions on using NASA-funded awards to “enter into or fund any grant or cooperative agreement of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally or in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company, at the prime or subrecipient level, whether the involvement is funded or performed under a no-funds exchanged agreement.”

National Science Foundation (NSF)

The NSF Proposal & Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) requires that “the proposed project and all other projects or activities requiring a portion of time of the PI and any other senior personnel must be included, even if they receive no salary support from the project(s).”

The NSF recommends foreign engagement, collaborations, and affiliations be listed on one or more of the following required elements of a proposal:

  • NSF Current and Pending Support – include all financial resources and commitments, even when no salary support is received from the sponsor
  • NSF Biographical Sketch – pay special attention to the Publications and Synergistic Activities sections
  • NSF Collaborations and Other Affiliations – required for each individual listed as senior project personnel, be sure to include all foreign and domestic collaborators and co-authors

Department of Defense (DOD)

As of April, 2019, DOD Notices of Funding Opportunities (NFOs) for research and research training now require current support documentation from all key personnel at the proposal stage. This information is required whether or not the key personnel effort on the project is DOD-funded.

The DOD Grant and Agreement Regulations (DGARs) contain general information about proposals and awards form the DOD, but please refer to each specific proposal NFO for details on requirements for current support documentation and any other requirements regarding the disclosure foreign collaborations or affiliations.

Department of Energy (DOE)

In June of 2019, DOE published the directive DOE Order 0486.1 providing detailed guidance on participation by DOE-funded researchers in Foreign Talent Programs.

In general, refer to your specific DOE Funding Announcement for instructions on Current and Pending Support documentation, and for any specific requirements around foreign collaborations or affiliations.

Foreign Talent Programs

Per the June 7th, 2019 directive, the DOE does not allow participation in foreign talent programs by its employees or contractor personnel. The DOE defines such programs as “any foreign-state-sponsored attempt to acquire US scientific-funded research or technology through foreign government-run or funded recruitment programs that target scientists, engineers, academics, researchers, and entrepreneurs of all nationalities working or educated in the United States.”

A researcher wishing to seek DOE funding who is in such a talent program must remove his/her association with the talent program before receiving DOE funding.

The DOE will also be maintaining a list of foreign talent programs that fall under this ban.