Guidance Regarding Foreign Influence in University Research

University Memorandum from the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and the Vice President for Academic Affairs

The current regulatory landscape informing the research enterprise includes serious growing concerns by the US Government concerning inappropriate influence by foreign entities over federally funded research. As a result, academic research institutions have a heightened interest in understanding the affiliations and dealings faculty members may have with foreign governments and entities. The University of South Alabama encourages international collaboration, and recognizes it is important for investigators to be transparent about their foreign relationships and activities. 

Background

Federal agencies have issued statements expressing growing concerns over the potential for foreign influence in the following areas:

  1. failure by some researchers to disclose contributions of resources from other organizations, including foreign governments;
  2. diversion of intellectual property to foreign entities;
  3. sharing of confidential information by peer reviewers with others, including in some instances with foreign entities, or otherwise attempting to influence funding decisions.

In August 2018, Francis Collins, director of the NIH, alerted the research community to threats from foreign entities, and the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision alluding to the restriction of federal funding to institutions doing business with certain Chinese telecommunications companies.

Disclosure of Foreign Relationships and Activities

All investigators on sponsored projects should check the sponsor’s current disclosure requirements carefully and, if in doubt, contact Sponsored Projects Administration at 251-460-7888 for disclosure assistance or further guidance. In addition, investigators should take the following actions:

  • Review and update Other Support and Current and Pending Support information in proposals
  • Review and update biosketches
  • Ensure appropriate disclosure of foreign components for NIH-supported projects
  • Review COI disclosure and update as necessary
  • Report all reimbursed or sponsored travel related to PHS-supported projects
  • Reach out to the Office of Research Compliance and Assurance for guidance related to export control regulations
  • With the assistance of the Office of Technology Commercialization, enter into a material transfer agreement or nondisclosure agreement when sharing or exchanging materials or information

Guidance regarding the types of relationships and activities that University of South Alabama investigators are expected to disclose are explained below.

TRANSPARENCY IN DISCLOSURE

▼   Disclosure to Sponsors

• Be thorough and complete in accounting for all forms of research support, including from foreign sources and gifts, in NIH’s Other Support, the NSF’s Current and Pending and similar documentation submitted to other sponsors.

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 multiple 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 researcher with a 9-month appointment spends two months at a university outside of the U.S. during the summer conducting research funded by a foreign award, that activity should be disclosed.

• Disclose collaborations with foreign or domestic entities in compliance with sponsor requirements in your proposals and reporting. These collaborations may include exchanges of personnel, materials, or data, or other significant activity likely to result in co-authorship.

Check your sponsor’s current disclosure requirements carefully.

• Participation in foreign talent programs, such as China’s Thousand Talents Program, must be disclosed to federal sponsors.

• 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 the Office of Sponsored Projects Administration for assistance.

• PIs should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all Other Support has been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal or progress report, he or she should contact the Office of Sponsored Projects Administration for assistance.

▼   Disclosure to the University

• Disclose outside professional activities and financial relationships, whether compensated or uncompensated. The University’s Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy and the Conflict of Interest in Research Policy are being reviewed and updated. Activities requiring disclosure include support from foreign governments and foreign academic institutions, domestic and foreign consulting relationships, visiting positions at domestic and foreign institutions, investment in a start-up company, etc.
 
• Discuss any invitation for any academic appointment or position at another domestic or international institution (visiting, honorary, or other) with your Dean’s Office prior to accepting the appointment.

• Disclose to your Dean’s Office and the Office of Research and Economic Development any involvement in any foreign recruitment or “talent” programs.  These programs are of particular interest to the federal government, as they are seen as presenting a uniquely high risk of undermining U.S. economic and security interests. 

▼   Disclosures to the Public

• Disclose financial interests related to your research in all public sharing of your USA research results - presentations, publications or otherwise. Journals and professional organizations (where results are presented) have different, often broader standards for disclosure than the University. Review those standards for each relevant journal or organization. Remind your group members and coauthors to review those standards.

▼   Engaging Foreign National Visitors

• Visiting scientists are an asset to the University’s research programs. In addition to restricted party screening, it is important to follow proper appointment processes to ensure individuals are properly vetted, and that access to the University’s space and systems is appropriate for the proposed work.

• Be diligent in evaluating the nature of any visiting collaborators:  visitors with extended stays, or who do not have the appropriate background for the anticipated research activity, must be carefully scrutinized. Any activity that raises suspicion should be thoroughly evaluated in consultation with your Dean’s Office.

Questions about Foreign National Visitors should be directed to Regina George, Director, Office of Immigration at reginageorge@southalabama.edu

 

▼   Export Controls

• Regulations around export controls are complex and constantly evolving, and there several issues to be considered before engaging in a wide range of export-controlled activities. This includes collaborating with international partners, making financial transactions, international shipments, transferring technology, traveling abroad, or using restricted materials for research.

Most of the research at the University of South Alabama is considered fundamental research, where export laws do not apply. However, some items/technologies fall under the reach of U.S. export control laws. Sponsored programs may have export restrictions on particular items, equipment, technology and data. Additionally, the research may have restrictions on the participation of foreign nationals and/or freedom to publish the results of the research.

• Several countries are under comprehensive federal embargo (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimea Region of the Ukraine).  Travel to/from these countries/territories will be reviewed by the Office of Research Compliance and Assurance in advance of the anticipated activity to ensure appropriate clearance can be obtained.

• Review guidance on “Keeping Your Data Safe When Traveling

• Review of international visitors and foreign entities (e.g., vendors, contractors, universities) are conducted to ensure compliance with a variety of federal restricted party lists.

Questions related to Export Control compliance should be directed to Angela Williams at aswilliams@southalabama.edu or Dusty Layton at dlayton@southalabama.edu.  Additional details are available on the Export Controls website

▼   Foreign Travel

• Agencies and other entities that fund your work may require advance approval and/or disclosure of foreign travel or domestic travel sponsored by foreign entities. Check the requirements associated with your specific funding sources.

• All international travel by faculty and staff must be registered with Office of International Education. If you travel abroad on University business, you must follow University Travel procedures.

Questions about international travel should be directed to Bri Ard, Director, at bard@southalabama.edu

▼   Intellectual Property and Proper Security of Materials/Data

• To ensure that intellectual property is protected and, when required, appropriately reported to sponsors, promptly disclose any potential inventions or other intellectual property to the Office of Commercialization and Industry Collaboration (OCIC).

• If you are involved in a startup based on licensed technology from University of South Alabama, the company should disclose to OCIC any investments, partnerships, or sublicenses made with foreign entities.

• When materials or data will be shared with other institutions, foreign or otherwise, a material transfer agreement (MTA), data use agreement (DUA), or nondisclosure agreement (NDA) should be in place, governing the use of those materials or data. Having an agreement also allows University of South Alabama to complete all required internal controls and checks.  The Office of Commercialization and Industry Collaboration provides guidance on these agreements:

A Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is an agreement that governs the transfer of tangible research materials between two organizations. This agreement typically lays out the terms for exchanging the material and determines how this material can be used by the receiving party. When a material is leaving the University for another institution or an industry research partner, an MTA is required to secure the rights of the University and that of the individual researchers including publication rights. When a material is coming into the University, the other institution may require an MTA to be signed. The MTA request form is located at https://www.southalabama.edu/departments/research/ocic/material-transfer-agreements.html.

A Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is sometimes referred to as a Confidential Disclosure Agreement. These agreements govern the terms for exchanging confidential information between the University and an outside party. An NDA can be implemented to protect confidential information that is leaving the University for a variety of reasons. An NDA will determine what is confidential information and what is not, how the information is disclosed, how long the information must be kept secret, who the information can be disclosed to, as well as a variety of other topics depending on the individual agreement. An NDA is needed when confidential information is being communicated to someone outside the University of South Alabama. This includes licensing, sponsored projects, commercialization, and research collaboration communications. You may request an NDA by contacting Reggie Taylor, Associate Director at reggietaylor@southalabama.edu.

Questions about the MTA and NDA should be directed to Reggie Taylor, Associate Director at reggietaylor@southalabama.edu.

• Remember that all agreements must be reviewed and signed by institutional officials with appropriate signature authority.

• Accepting any sensitive or controlled information under a research contract may require heightened cybersecurity requirements. Please contact Gina Hedberg  with the Office of Sponsored Projects Administration to confirm these requirements can be properly managed prior to proposal submission.

▼   Peer Review

Information gained through peer review processes – whether reviewing grant applications or publications – is confidential and should never be shared. 

 

AGENCY SPECIFIC GUIDANCE

 

▼   The National Science Foundation (NSF)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a Dear Colleague Letter: Research Protection from Director France Cordova on July 11, 2019 clarifying multiple steps NSF is taking to mitigate risks from “activities threatening our research community, such as certain foreign-government-sponsored talent requirement programs.” NSF has proposed clarification of the proposal disclosure requirements and reporting requirements for both current and pending support and professional appointments. Those clarifications are included in the draft Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (NSF 20-1) . Effective January 2020, NSF also proposes to use an electronic format for submission of biographical sketches, including disclosure of all appointments, and disclosure of current and pending support information.

NIH Other Support and Foreign Components FAQ, August 6, 2019

▼   The National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a Notice on July 10, 2019, reminding research institutions that NIH-funded researchers must “report foreign activities through documentation of other support, foreign components, and financial conflict of interest to prevent scientific, budgetary, or commitment overlap” (NOT-OD-19-114). Other Support includes “all resources made available to a researcher in support of and/or related to all of their research endeavors, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value and regardless of whether they are based at the institution the researcher identifies for the current grant.” An FAQ can be found here.

NIH, Office of the Director, 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

NIH Advisory Group to the Director, Working Group on Foreign Influences on Research Integrity Update - June 19, 2019

▼   The Department of Energy (DoE)
The Department of Energy issued a directive dated June 7, 2019, mandating that “federal and contractor personnel fully disclose and, as necessary, terminate affiliations with foreign government-supported talent recruitment programs” on new DOE contracts and subcontracts. DOE is expected to issue a separate policy directive to implement the requirement on DOE grants and cooperative agreements.
▼   The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
NASA has long-standing restrictions on using NASA funds to enter into agreements “to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company, at the prime recipient level or at any subrecipient level, whether the bilateral involvement is funded or performed under a no-exchange of funds arrangement” (grant restrictions, contract restrictions).
▼   The Department of Defense (DoD)

On October 10, Michael D. Griffin, Department of Defense (DOD) Undersecretary for Research and Engineering, released a letter addressed to the academic community describing threats to our collaborative research environment by foreign governments and outlining steps taken by DOD and other federal agencies to protect the integrity of the research enterprise.