In December 2017, the United States Government (USG) announced its dedication to promote and protect U.S. research and innovation from the risk of illicit appropriation and theft by foreign competitors. In line with this, several agencies—including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense (DoD) — issued notices and directives stating their commitment to safeguarding U.S. knowledge and intellectual property and reminding U.S. research and educational institutions of their disclosure obligations with respect to foreign entities and federally funded activities, including sponsored research. Several agencies further indicated that failure to disclose foreign relationships and activities could affect eligibility for future federal funding.
Several USG agencies have issued statements regarding the Government’s commitment to safeguarding U.S.-based research and intellectual property, and reiterating the disclosure obligations associated with federally funded work. At a May 2019 Federal Demonstration Partnership meeting, DOD, DOE, NIH and NSF gave a joint session on Implementation and Harmonization of Foreign Influence Requirements, in which the agencies provided "information on the latest guidance from key federal agencies related to national security and foreign influence in research" and a status update on efforts to potentially harmonize requirements across government agencies.
A summary of the agencies' positions, related official notices, and recent efforts follows:
- On July 10, 2019, NIH issued a notice entitled, “Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts ofInterest and Foreign Components”, the intent of which is to remind the NIH research community of the need to report foreign activities through documentation of other support, foreign components, and financial conflict of interest to prevent scientific, budgetary, or commitment overlap. Along with the notice, NIH also posted updated FAQs on these policies.
- NIH has sent letters to specific institutional grant recipients inquiring into possible failures to disclose investigators’ foreign affiliations, foreign research support, and foreign components. NIH confirmed at the May 2019 FDP meeting that it is continuing to send out these letters and is expected to update its “Other Support” requirements.
- On August 20, 2018, the NIH Director issued a Statement on Protecting the Integrity of U.S. Biomedical Research. In it, the Director acknowledged three areas of concern related to risks associated with the security of intellectual property, one of which was the failure by researchers to disclose substantial contributions of resources. The others were the diversion of intellectual property in grant applications and the sharing of confidential information by peer reviewers with foreign entities. NIH stated its commitment to work with NIH-funded academic institutions to address these concerns.
- On July 11, 2019, NSF Director, Dr. France Córdova, issued a “Dear Colleague” letter discussing research protection and risks to the nation’s science and engineering enterprise. In her letter, Dr. Córdova reminded the research community that government ethics regulations require accurate and timely financial disclosure reports and that these regulations cover gifts from foreign governments. She further announced that NSF is developing an electronic format for disclosure for current and pending support information, as well as submission of biographical sketches, which would include all appointments.
- On April 26, 2019, NSF responded to Senator Chuck Grassley's April 2019 letter on what actions they are taking and what screening they are doing to prevent or investigate the theft of IP and data. Senator Grassley is the chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, and has been a leading voice among lawmakers who view foreign-born scientists working in the US as a potential threat to the US research enterprise. NIH responded in December 2018 to a prior letter from Senator Grassely.
- On October 23, 2018, the National Science Board issued a Statement of the National Science Board on Security and Science in which it acknowledged the importance of the “free exchange of ideas,” and simultaneously noted that national security requires control in certain circumstances. It provided that “U.S. universities and colleges must help . . . safeguard information that impacts national security and economic competitiveness” and recommended that all institutions conducting NSF-supported fundamental research “embrace transparency and rigorously adhere to conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policies...[and] educate their communities about how to protect the integrity of research.”
- In February 2019, DOE issued a notice regarding its intention to require “federal and contractor personnel [to] fully disclose and, as necessary, terminate affiliations with foreign government-supported talent recruitment programs.” A notice followed in June 2019 in which the DOE provided its definition of a Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Program.
- On January 31, 2019, DOE issued a Memorandum announcing a plan to, in part, prohibit individuals from participating in foreign talent recruitment programs of DOE-designated sensitive countries while performing on DOE contracts. DOE specifically noted that “[t]hese limitations also will apply to recipients of financial assistance (e.g., grants or cooperative agreements).”
- On December 14, 2018, the Department of Energy issued a Memorandum addressing concerns about foreign exploitation of the U.S. scientific community. This memorandum announced several policy changes, including prohibiting sensitive country foreign nationals from designated countries from conducting Foreign Visits and Assignments on specific research areas. It also identified its proposal to prohibit DOE grant recipients from using U.S. tax dollars to conduct international research collaborations in specified research areas and locations.
- Citing the NDAA, on March 20, 2019, 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.”
Brown University fully supports federally funded research and international collaborations. It is simultaneously committed to protecting U.S. research and innovation and to complying with U.S. Government directives and disclosure regulations. Below we provide guidance and resources regarding the Government’s initiatives and University researchers’ compliance obligations.
The NIH Foreign Influences on Research Integrity Advisory Committee report, published in December 2018, provides recommendations for recipient organizations of NIH funding which include best practices that apply to recipients of all federal awards. Brown has already implemented many of these recommendations. A subset of the recommendations and Brown's approach to each are highlighted below:
Disclosure of foreign support: Brown's Office of Sponsored Projects (OSP) hosts a web page with detailed instructions for Identifying All Sources of Support in Proposals for External Funding. Researchers must review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all foreign components and “other support” have been properly disclosed. Contact OSP with any questions and to disclose any previously undisclosed foreign support.
Participation in foreign government-sponsored talent programs. While Brown does not explicitly ask about participation in foreign talent programs, researchers are reminded that such participation may jeopardize your ability to receive future federal funding for research or collaborate with government agencies. The federal agencies do not have a unified definition of what constitutes a foreign talent program; DOE does have its definition, as cited above. As such, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) encourages you to contact us to discuss offers for research of significant dollar value that will be awarded to you as an individual (not through Brown) and require frequent travel to or extended stays in the foreign country from which the offer of research support originated. These are all indicators that the sponsor could constitute a government-supported foreign talent program. Contact ORI with any questions.
Collaborating with international subawardees. OSP has established formal procedures for administering both domestic and foreign subawards. Foreign subrecipients are subject to a risk assessment and screening process set forth in this process document. Contact OSP with any questions.
- "Pre-travel" briefings and clean electronic devices. ORI has and will continue to offer voluntary briefings to any researcher traveling abroad, particularly those traveling to comprehensively sanctioned and embargoed countries and other countries with heightened security requirements. Contact ORI with any questions.
Report Inventions and Intellectual Property. Brown researchers are reminded to promptly report inventions and intellectual property (IP) to the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing in accordance with the University's Patent and Invention Policy.
Processes for securely hosting foreign visitors in laboratories while avoiding unwanted information gathering. ORI has conducted many personalized and group outreach and education sessions related to hosting foreign visitors and scholars, and remains available to provide further education and foreign visitor screening using dedicated software. ORI is currently developing guidance and screening process recommendations for all foreign visitors entering research labs, including visiting faculty.
The ORI continues to maintain a web page on International Collaborations, including pages dedicated to embargoed countries, restricted foreign universities, and hosting visitors and visiting scholars from embargoed countries.
Brown’s Export Control Compliance Manual (p. 39-40) requires that “Departments/Centers/Institutes hosting scholars from embargoed countries must complete a ‘Deemed Export’ Intake Form for Visiting Scholar(s) and submit it to the [Export Control Officer] prior to arrival.” The ORI subsequently provides guidance to the sponsoring department regarding what may be prohibited and what security measures must be implemented if the department chooses to move forward with hosting that individual. Contact ORI with any questions.
Compliance with institutional reporting requirements for conflict of interest (COI) and conflict of commitment (COC). Starting with its 2019 annual Conflict of Interest & Commitment reporting cycle, the ORI included a new question asking about receipt of foreign support. Those who self-report receipt of foreign support receive personalized guidance from ORI. Disclosures of conflicts of commitment are referred to the appropriate faculty affairs offices. It remains investigators' responsibility to accurately report COIs and COCs in accordance with University reporting requirements. Contact ORI with any questions.