Foreign Interests in Sponsored Projects
Guideline Date: October 2019
Last Review: N/A
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Foreign Interests in Federally-Funded Research
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 the University remains committed to international collaborations and research and continued partnerships around the world, the University needs 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, includes Sec. 1286 which states, "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 U.S. regulations governing international research collaborations, and in an effort to mitigate any inherent institutional vulnerabilities and emerging threats to national security, the University has developed the guidance below which should allow University researchers to continue pursuing international research collaborations while maintaining transparency and compliance with federal law.
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 the following:
- Failure by researchers in disclosing honorary appointments, participation in "talents" programs, or substantial financial contributions from foreign governments or agencies;
- Diversion of patentable inventions or other intellectual property to foreign entities;
- 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 the guidance is compiled below. Please keep in mind that agency guidelines are subject to change with the regulatory landscape as this is an emerging issue. University researchers are encouraged to review funding opportunity announcements and requests for proposals thoroughly for relevant agency policies.
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
As stated in the NIH Grants Policy Statement, all individuals designated as 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 a 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.
Principal Investigators (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.