In 2018, federal funding agencies began expressing serious concerns that foreign entities were exerting inappropriate influence on U.S. research. The bulk of the concern centers around a lack of disclosure by faculty regarding foreign activities and interests. The funding agencies are adamant that investigators and their universities must completely disclose all foreign activities.
Federal agencies are increasing the requirements for principal investigators (PIs) to disclose their foreign sources of support and how this support is used in regards to the proposed and related research. Researchers who receive federal funding for research activities need to be aware of these requirements and how each federal agency defines foreign sources of support. Some of these requirements have been in place for some time, while others are new, interpreted differently and/or more rigorously than in the past.
Advocacy groups such as the Council on Governmental Regulations (COGR) continue to raise question on how to interpret these new agency requirements. In some instances, these discussions are likely to lead to modifications in the federal agency guidance. Therefore, it is imperative for campus researchers to stay up-to-date on new federal requirements and modifications as these become available. This webpage is designed to assist the GW research community.
The National Institutes of Health issued Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components NOT-OD-19-114) July 10, 2019.
Among the key points provided are:
- All pending support at the time of application submission and prior to award must be reported.
- Applicants are responsible for promptly notifying NIH of any substantive changes to previously submitted pending support.
- If obtaining additional support after the initial NIH award period, the details must be disclosed in the annual research performance progress report.
- Post-award, recipients must address any substantive changes by submitting a prior approval request to NIH.
Note: These disclosure requirements are in addition to the PHS Conflict of Interest disclosure requirements.
Financial Conflict of Interest: Investigator Disclosures of Foreign Financial Interests
Notice Number: NOT-OD-18-1602
The purpose of this Guide Notice is to remind the NIH extramural research community that the requirements of 42 CFR Part 50, Subpart F, Objectivity of Research, apply to each institution, domestic and foreign, that applies for or receives NIH research funding in the form of grants or cooperative agreements. The regulation, also known as the Financial Conflict of Interest (FCOI) regulation, applies to both prime and subrecipient institutions, domestic or foreign. Additionally it applies through implementation, to each Investigator who is planning to participate in, or is participating in, such research. However, these regulations do not apply to Phase I Small Business Innovative Research and Small Business Technology Transfer applications or awards.
The purpose of the regulation is to promote objectivity in research by establishing standards that provide a reasonable expectation that the design, conduct, and reporting of NIH-funded research is free from bias resulting from Investigator financial conflicts of interest. Thus, it is critical that there is a clear understanding of the applicability of these regulatory requirements. Equally important is that the regulation is a term and condition of all NIH grant and cooperative agreement awards, which means that compliance with the requirements is a condition of funding.
One such area of the FCOI regulation requiring clarity is Investigator disclosures with respect to foreign financial interests. The regulation refers to exclusions of Institutions of higher education as defined in 20 U.S.C. 1001(a) or a federal, state or local government agency when disclosing financial interests. However, these references refer to a U.S. Institution of higher education or a federal, state, or local government agency within the U.S. Therefore, Investigators, including subrecipient Investigators, must disclose all financial interests received from a foreign Institution of higher education or the government of another country (which includes local, provincial, or equivalent governments of another country).
For further information about the Financial Conflict of Interest regulations, please see NIH’s Financial Conflict of Interest website, which includes links to the full regulation and extensive FAQs as well as other resources.
The National Science Foundation Director sent out a Dear Colleague Letter: Research Protection clarifying numerous policies on July 11, 2019. Among the key points are:
- NSF is proposing to use an electronic format for submission of biographical sketches, including the disclosure of all appointments.
- NSF has commissioned a study to assess risks and recommend possible practices for NSF and its awardee organizations to achieve a balance between openness and security of science.
- NSF is issuing a policy making it clear that NSF personnel and IPAs detailed to NSF cannot participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs.
Note: These disclosure requirements are in addition to the NSF Conflict of Interest disclosure requirements.
Recent Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) from Defense agencies such as DARPA are seeking more detailed disclosures on support sources for Principal Investigators and other key personnel. National Security Impact Statements are now features of these proposals, with particular attention paid to plans to transfer technology to U.S. industry and disclosures on whether technologies developed under the contract will be transferred to foreign entities. Furthermore, proposers are instructed to disclose any prior instances of transfer of technology to foreign entities.
On March 20, 2019, the Undersecretary of Defense announced new requirements for all new DoD Notices of Funding Opportunities (NFOs) pertaining to new research and research-related educational activities after April 19, 2019.
See the excerpt below and the full March 20, 2019 memo for details.
Proposers must submit the following information for all key personnel—not just the PI and Co-PI—whether or not the individuals' efforts under the project are to be funded by the DoD:
- A list of all current projects the individual is working on.
- Any future (pending) support the individual has applied to receive, regardless of the source.
- Title and objectives of each of these research projects.
- The percentage per year each of the key personnel will devote to the other projects.
- The total amount of support the individual is receiving in connection to each of the other research projects or will receive if other proposals are awarded.
- Name and address of the agencies and/or other parties supporting the other research projects.
- Period of performance for the other research projects.
DoD indicates that failure to submit this information may cause the proposal to be returned without further review. DoD also reserves the right to request further details from a proposer before making a final determination on funding the effort
The U.S. Department of Energy issued a directive on June 7, 2019 that prohibits DOE and contractor personnel from participating in talent recruitment programs operated by certain foreign countries. While this directive does not directly affect faculty who are unaffiliated with DOE or its National Labs, it illustrates a pervasive concern across the federal agencies. DOE is still developing guidance to its community of university performers.
In general, such programs include any foreign-state-sponsored attempt to acquire U.S. 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. These recruitment programs are often part of broader whole-of-government strategies to reduce costs associated with basic research while focusing investment on military development or dominance in emerging technology sectors.
Distinguishing features of a foreign government talent recruitment program covered by this Order include:
- Compensation provided by the foreign state to the targeted individual in exchange for the individual transferring their knowledge and expertise to the foreign country. The compensation can take several forms, such as cash, research funding, honorific titles, career advancement opportunities, promised future compensation, or other types of remuneration or consideration.
- Recruitment in this context refers to the foreign-state-sponsor’s active engagement in attracting the targeted individual to join the foreign- sponsored program and transfer their knowledge and expertise to the foreign state. The targeted individual may be employed and located in the U.S., or in the foreign state. Recruitment would not necessarily include any invitation for engagement extended by the foreign state, such as an invitation to attend or present work at an international conference.
- Many, but not all, programs aim to incentivize the targeted individual to physically relocate to the foreign state. Of particular concern are those programs that allow for continued employment at U.S. research facilities or receipt of DOE research funds while concurrently receiving compensation from the foreign state.
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