Foreign Influence in University Research

Overview

In late 2017, the United States Government announced its dedication to promote and protect U.S. research and innovation from the risk of illicit appropriation and theft by foreign competitors. Subsequently, several agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DoE), and the Department of Defense (DoD) issued notices and directives stating their commitment to safeguarding U.S. knowledge and intellectual property.

Given the heightened sensitivity to these issues, U.S. research and educational institutions are being reminded of their disclosure obligations with respect to foreign entities and federally funded activities. This includes disclosure obligations for sponsored research. Several agencies further indicated that failure to disclose foreign relationships and activities could affect eligibility for future funding. The University of Hawaii recognizes the significance of these concerns and encourages international collaboration while emphasizing the importance for investigators to be transparent about their foreign relationships and activities. The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI) has compiled the following information to provide guidance and resources to remind UH researchers of their compliance obligations to federal sponsors.

Federal Concerns with Foreign Influence in University Research

Many federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), have released statements and most recently a report in regards to foreign influence and the associated risks to academia:

“As of March 2018, more than 1.4 million international students and professors were participating in America’s open and collaborative academic environment. The inclusion of these international scholars at U.S. colleges and universities entails both substantial benefit—and notable risk. Many of these visitors contribute to the impressive successes and achievements enjoyed by these institutions, which produce advanced research, cutting-edge technology, and insightful scholarship. However, this open environment also puts academia at risk for exploitation.”

Federal agencies have sought to clarify long standing policies and have issued new guidance. In addition, federal law enforcement agencies have increased prosecutorial activity in unison with the federal funding agencies, and Congress has signed new legislation and sought information on how the academic research community is responding to this evolving issue. Please review UH’s guidance along with the agency specific guidance listed below.

What Researchers Need to Know

Significant financial interests received from any foreign entity, including governments and universities, must be disclosed, per UH Executive Policy 12.214, Conflicts of Interest and Commitment.

To address the recent attention on concerns about improper foreign influences on US research, the Office of Research Compliance (ORC) wants to remind Investigators of their continuing responsibilities to disclose any, and all, significant financial interests (SFI) and other outside interests as defined in UH Executive Policy 12.214, Conflicts of Interest and Commitment.

UH Administrative Policy 12.304: Procedures for Disclosing and Addressing Conflicts of Interest Related with Extramural Funded Activities.

Investigators are required to disclose any SFI (and any SFI of their spouse, domestic partner or dependent children) held in the last 12 months that reasonably appear to be related to the Investigator’s institutional responsibilities:

  • prior to, or at the time of proposal submission;
  • within thirty days of discovering or acquiring a new SFI; and
  • at least annually, during the lifespan of an award.

Significant Financial Interests (SFI) are defined as:

  • Remuneration (outside compensation/income) in excess of $5,000, aggregated per entity, from any outside entity*
  • Equity interest (e.g. stocks) in a public entity in excess of $5,000
  • Equity interest of any value in a private entity
  • Aggregated interests, both income and equity, in excess of $5,000 per entity;
  • Royalties or income from intellectual property (e.g., patents, copyrights and trademarks) from an outside entity
  • Sponsored Travel: reimbursement or sponsorship for travel by an outside entity, Applies ONLY to Investigators who receive extramural awards from PHS and any non-PHS agencies who incorporate PHS regulations in their award terms.

Other outside interests that should also be disclosed include:

  • Board positions, offices, appointments or memberships held in any outside entity, whether compensated or not;
  • Industry collaborations, both officially and unofficially, with foreign or domestic entities (including any agreements, e.g., NDAs, MOAs or MOUs);
  • Employment, assistantships or exchanges (e.g., Post-docs, visiting scholars) of any international citizens involved in your UH research or extramurally-funded activities, or any of your private outside interests that could relate to your Institutional responsibilities (e.g., start-ups or spin-offs).

>*Entity refers to, foreign and domestic, person, partnership, organization, or business that has a legal and separately identifiable existence.

*Investigators are defined as a project director, principal investigator and any other key person who is responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research.

Researchers should be thorough in accounting for all forms of research support, including from foreign sources and gifts. Check your sponsor’s current disclosure requirements carefully, including disclosure requirements related to foreign travel and collaborations involving foreign sites. The Principal Investigators (PIs) are responsible for updating and maintaining current and pending support documentation. This includes all sources of support; when in doubt, report.

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 under a foreign award, that activity should be disclosed. 

Principal Investigators 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 (OSPA) Research Administrator (RA) for assistance in correcting the error.

 “Other Support” may include resources and/or financial support, domestic or foreign, available in support of a researcher’s research endeavors. Such support should be disclosed on an Other Support or Current & Pending form, as required by the sponsor. Sponsor guidelines typically specify that all sources of support be disclosed, regardless of whether they are awarded by another sponsor or provided by the University of Hawaii (e.g., department/college or faculty start-up funds).

Outside professional work for compensation (UH Administrative Policy 9.240) also requires prior approval through Dean/Director. Participation in foreign talent programs, such as China’s Thousand Talents Program, must be disclosed to federal sponsors.

Foreign components of federally funded research should be disclosed in proposals, progress reports, and final technical reports in compliance with each specific sponsor’s requirements.

U.S. export control laws and regulations, which are complex and constantly evolving, exist to maintain national security and protect U.S. economic vitality.

U.S. export control laws and regulations operate to restrict the use of and access to controlled information, goods, and technology for reasons of national security or protection of trade. These laws and regulations control the shipments of tangible items and technical data outside the U.S., prohibit access to export-controlled technical data, materials, or equipment to non-U.S. persons within the United States, known as a deemed export, and impose sanctions and embargoes on transactions or exchanges with designated countries, entities and individuals.

Researchers must comply with all U.S. export control regulations when collaborating with international partners, making financial transactions, procurement, shipping materials, transferring technology, traveling abroad, or using restricted materials for research.

Most of the research at the University of Hawaii is considered fundamental research, where export laws do not apply. Fundamental research is basic and applied research in science and engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from Industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary or national security reasons. However, some items/technologies fall under the reach of these 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.

Researchers should contact UH OEC at uhoec@hawaii.edu with questions related to compliance with the federal export control regulations.

Additional information is available on Regulations and Policies on the OEC website at https://www.hawaii.edu/research/export-controls/

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Additional information as well as contact information for the Office of Intellectual Property can be found at https://www.hawaii.edu/research/uh-ip-policies/.

Agency Specific Guidance

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.” Examples of other support are; salary or other support for a research project(s); honorary, visiting or adjunct appointment at a foreign university; non-monetary resources or in-kind support, such as lab space, personnel, equipment or supplies. A FAQ can be found here.

The NIH Notice NOT-OD-19-114 Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components and the accompanying FAQ raised several questions in the community about what and how investigators must disclose other support in grant applications. Since then, there have been many discussions about the requirements, and public statements clarifying the requirements. It appears that NIH is unlikely to issue a formal clarification in the very short term, but institutions still need to submit proposals and reports. Accordingly, in the interim the Council On Governmental Relations (COGR) has summarized their current understanding of the NIH requirements. This is COGR’s best assessment of the NIH statements, but this document has not been endorsed by NIH. COGR released another statement on March 11, 2020 on how federal policies and regulations impact their member institutions.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a Dear Colleague Letter 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). In December 2019, NSF released a “Fundamental Research Security” report conducted by an independent science advisory group that is part of their ongoing effort to keep collaborations open and secure. 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.

The Department of Defense (DoD) issued a Memorandum titled “Actions for the Protection of Intellectual Property, Controlled Information, Key Personnel and Critical Technologies.” In this memorandum, DoD outlined disclosure requirements for research and research-related educational activities supported by DoD grants, cooperative agreements, and Technology Investment Agreements (TIAs). Included among the requirements is the obligation for proposers to submit a list of all current projects and future support key personnel have or have applied to receive.

Section 1286 of the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) instructed DoD to undertake initiatives with academic institutions that perform defense research to support the protection of certain information and technologies and “to limit undue influence, including through foreign talent programs, by countries to exploit United States technology within the Department of Defense research, science and technology, and innovation enterprise.”

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 State Department has issued a new determination under the Foreign Missions Act, requiring members of the Chinese diplomatic corps to notify the State Department when making visits to educational and research institutions, among other entities.
The Department’s determination requires U.S.-based personnel of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) foreign missions (including personnel at the embassy and consulates of the PRC and those on temporary assignments conducting official business for the PRC government) to notify the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions in advance of:

  • Official visits to educational institutions
  • Official visits to research institutions, including National Labs
  • Official meetings with state officials
  • Official meetings with local and municipal officials

Chinese diplomats only need to inform the Department of these types of meetings. They do not need the State Department’s permission to visit educational institutions. The State Department indicated that the PRC government has chosen to prevent American diplomats from gaining access to Chinese campuses for educational and cultural programming, including programs that encourage students to study at American educational institutions. The new policy for PRC officials is a result of this situation.

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).

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