Unwanted Foreign Influence
There has been a heightened awareness and increased frequency of issues related to foreign influence in academia. This is true among the federal government, peer institutions, and in coverage in media. Federal agencies and policymakers have expressed concern that foreign entities may be using and exploiting the academic research enterprise to compromise the United States’ economic competitiveness and national security. Federal funding agencies have likewise expressed those concerns and that the integrity of competitive academic research, creativity and intellectual property has been exploited. In response, federal funding agencies have issued new and made more stringent requirements and guidance. Law and regulatory enforcement agencies have increased prosecutorial and punitive actions, and Congress has signed new legislation to curb unwanted (also referred to as undue) foreign influence. Funding agencies, administrative and enforcement bodies have sought information on how the academic research community is responding to this evolving issue.
Laws, Regulation, Policies & Funding Agencies
As an employee at The University of Texas at El Paso and part of the state system, you may have at least four main concerns:
Peer review and confidential competitive research and creative works violations.
- Failure to disclose substantial foreign resources:
- Foreign employment arrangements
- Foreign grant support that creates problems with overlap, or over-commitment.
- Non-disclosure of substantial foreign research support, which includes unpaid labor (visiting scholar/student funded by a foreign source).
- “Talents awards” or compensation for foreign programs, including appointments.
- Foreign grants – Hidden transfers of information, know-how, data, person-time.
- Failure to disclose significant foreign financial Conflict of Interest:
- Equity in foreign companies.
- Foreign patents that leverage or are affiliated with US taxpayer funded work.
Communication, Guidance, Regulations, and Policies from Federal Agencies and Governments:
Federal funding agencies, Congress, and the White House have all issued communications, guidance, regulations and policies related to the issue of unwanted foreign influences on research and creative works. Organizations related to higher education, e.g. the American Council on Education, have also issued briefings and position papers, as below. A brief list and overview from select sponsors is provided in this section.
Association of American Universities Science and Security Resource Document
Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities [APLU] and Association of American Universities [AAU] Actions Taken by Universities to Address Science and Security Concerns
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
In August 2018, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Francis Collins issued a Foreign Influence Letter to Grantees and testified to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee regarding concerns about systematic programs of foreign influence in U.S. research.
NIH Director Collins Dear Colleague Foreign Influence Letter
In December 2018 and June 2019, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) released a report entitled ACD Working Group for Foreign Influences on Research Integrity identifying recommendations around communication and awareness; risk mitigation; and monitoring, actions, and consequences.
NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Foreign Influence Report June 2019
NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Foreign Influence Report December 2018
In July, NIH issued NOT-OD-19-114 clarifying and reminding the research community of NIH policies on Other Support and Foreign Components.
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
Frequently Asked Questions Other Support and Foreign Components Initial Posting: June 19, 2019
National Science Foundation (NSF)
NSF- Statement of The National Science Board on Security and Science October 23, 2018 NSB-2018-42
Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide May 29, 2019
NSF Dear Colleague Research Protection Letter 7.11.19
The NSF Dear Colleague letter outlined a few steps it is taking to mitigate the risks in concert with other agencies and stakeholders. Highlights from the letter:
- To ensure that NSF is applying consistent standards to all staff members, each of whom has access to sensitive merit review and other information, we issued a requirement in April 2018 that rotators working onsite at NSF must be U.S. citizens or have applied for U.S. citizenship.
- Since 1978, NSF has required senior project personnel on proposals to disclose all sources of support, both foreign and domestic.
Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide
- A renewed effort is now underway to ensure that existing requirements to disclose current and pending support information are known, understood, and followed. For example, in May, we published in the Federal Register a proposed clarification of our proposal disclosure requirements (open for public comment through July 29). Our draft NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide includes clarifications regarding reporting requirements for both current and pending support and professional appointments. To streamline the process for providing these disclosures to NSF, we are proposing use of an electronic format for submission of biographical sketches, including disclosure of all appointments. As currently envisioned, this will become effective in January 2020. We are also working to develop an electronic format for disclosure of current and pending support information.
Foreign Government Talent Programs
- Finally, we are issuing a policy making it clear that NSF personnel and IPAs detailed to NSF cannot participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs. There is a risk that participation in foreign government talent recruitment programs by NSF personnel and IPAs will compromise the ethical principles that bind us. Moreover, such participation poses significant risks of inappropriate foreign influence on NSF policies, programs, and priorities, including the integrity of NSF's merit review process—risks we simply cannot accept.
Department of Energy (DOE)
The US Department of Energy prohibits personnel from participating in talent recruitment programs operated by foreign countries. DOE prohibition is particularly focused on: China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. DOE Order 486.1: "To ensure the continued flow of scientific and technical information consistent with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) broad scientific mission, while also ensuring protection of U.S. competitive and national security interests and DOE program objectives; and limiting unauthorized transfers of scientific and technical information."
Science Article on DOE Policies February 8, 2019
DOE Directive regarding Foreign Government Talent Recruitment, June 7, 2019
Department of Defense (DOD)
Department of Defense Letter raising awareness of efforts to combat foreign influences on research integrity. The letter highlights the efforts of JCORE - Joint Committee on the Research Environment
"DoD is an active participant in JCORE, and in its sub-committee on Research Security, which is initially focused on coordinating four lines of Federal effort:
- coordinating outreach and engagement
- disclosure requirements for participation in federally funded research
- best practices for academic research institutions
- methods for identification, assessment, and management of risk
Keep up-to date disclosures and encourage your faculty & staff to do so
Notify the Provost Office on foreign visitors (delegations, potential scholars, etc.)
Consider different perspectives when approached unsolicited or at random
Maintain data and physical security --- further gel par firstname.lastname@example.org
As question on regulations and requirements for a briefing at email@example.com
A. You disclose. This may be done internally at the link below, which includes training and helpline links. If you have an active award (grant, contract, etc.) that is federally sponsored (or a federal flowthrough from another organization), then you must disclose internally and to the federal sponsor. You may seek help disclosing to your federal sponsor by contacting your ORSP research administrator (RA) (if you don’t know your RA reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Fed. Sponsor: contact your ORSP RA (if you don’t know your RA reach out at email@example.com)
Q. What if my activity is outside of the 9-month appointment at UTEP?
A. Disclose all outside employment or other compensated activity, whether it takes place within or outside the term of one’s UTEP appointment (i.e., even if you have a 9-month appointment, any activities within a given year are reportable).
Q.The description of what needs to be disclosed seems broad. Is there a more specific list?
A. Any outside activity, regardless of but certainly including compensation, that reasonably appears to create a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment, should be disclosed. Examples include:
- Academic, research, or administrative appointments at a foreign institution, even if the appointment is uncompensated. This includes appointments that are full-time, part-time, honorary, adjunct, or voluntary.
- Any agreement with a foreign university for which the UTEP faculty member directs non-UTEP students, postdocs, or other personnel affiliated with that university.
- Any foreign affiliation that is included in any publication by the UTEP faculty member.
- Any contractual agreement with a foreign institution, company, or government agency.
- Any non-UTEP agreement in which foreign funds or other resources are provided to the faculty for activities either at UTEP or at a foreign institution.
- Any agreement or relationship that assigns intellectual property (IP) rights to the foreign institution.
- Any agreement or relationship with a foreign entity in which the UTEP faculty member receives payments for salary, stipends, or living expenses.
- Any consulting agreements with a foreign entity.
- Holding a position such as founder, partner, employee, or board member at a company, non-profit, governmental agency, or other foreign entity.
- Receiving living/lodging funds or reimbursements.
- Having significant ownership interest in a foreign company related to your UTEP role/responsibility.
- Financial interests in a foreign entity that does business with or competes with UTEP.
- Receiving travel funds or reimbursements from a foreign entity.
- Receiving an honorarium from a foreign entity.
Q. What if I didn’t start this activity until after I already received a federal award?
A. You must update your disclosure to represent your most current statuses.
Q. What if I have unpaid researchers (or students) working in my lab. Do I disclose this?
A. Yes. All support, whether scholars, any category of researchers, including students, working in your lab with direct support from any organization other than UTEP (including those who identify as “self-funded”) must be listed in your Other Support, Current & Pending Support, or similarly related per sponsor documents. The format or form for each of these documents e may differ depending on the sponsor, please contact your ORSP research administrator (RA) for help and expect to provide the following:
- Project Number: If applicable, include a code or identifier for the work.
- Source: Identify the entity providing support for the researcher in your lab.
- Major Goals: Provide a brief statement of the research or projects on which this individual/s is/are working.
- Dates of Approved/Proposed Project: Indicate the inclusive dates of work.
- Annual Direct Costs: Estimate an annual value of the time to your lab. For example, a student supported by their home country would be valued at the same rate as a University supported RA salary + fringe + tuition.
- Percent Effort/Person Months: As you are not required to provide any additional effort for oversight as allowable under presidential memorandum M-01-06, you may report 0 effort months.
07/09/2020: Researcher Charged with Illegally Using U.S. Grant Funds to Develop Scientific Expertise for China
Professor and researcher with strong ties to China has been ordered held without bond to face a charge of grant fraud for not disclosing that he was engaged in a sophisticated scheme to use approximately $4.1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop China’s expertise in the areas of rheumatology and immunology.
03/13/2020: Overview of the JASON report on foreign influence
U.S. scientists who violate government rules on disclosing foreign research ties should be investigated for research misconduct, says an independent group of prominent scientists asked to examine the threat of foreign influences on the U.S. research enterprise.
03/13/2020: Former West Virginia University Professor Pleads Guilty to Fraud That Enabled Him to Participate in the People’s Republic of China’s “Thousand Talents Plan”
02/20/2020: Harvard Professor Arrested for Allegedly Hiding Ties to China: What Universities Can Do to Protect National Security While Promoting an Open Academic Environment
10/27/2019: NIH could do more to address foreign threats reports says
The national Institutes of Health (NIH) should do more to ensure that investigators and grant reviewers aren’t susceptible to foreign influence, according to a trio of reports from the Health and Human Services inspector general released. Read the NIH OIG Report Summary. Report in Brief and Full Report.
Openness, intellectual freedom, and international collaboration are traditional hallmarks of University Sciences in the United States, Recently, however, federal funding and law enforcement agencies ― as well as Universities themselves― have been taking steps that some see as counter these values, in the interest of protecting the U.S. research and technology from foreign threats, especially China.