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Foreign influence on federally sponsored research – guidance

 

National security agencies, federal granting agencies, the White House, and members of Congress have all signaled their increasing concern about systematic programs of foreign interference and misappropriation of intellectual property at U.S. research universities. Washington State University encourages all members of the WSU community to ensure that their international collaborations and global engagement activities are both transparent and in full compliance with relevant policies and regulations.

 

This guidance has been prepared to provide resources to ensure that research and educational activities conducted abroad or involving foreign partners on campus are conducted in compliance with WSU policies and procedures and obligations to federal sponsors.

 

Any new requirements will be highlighted prominently on this website, in addition to being communicated to all research administrators. If you have any questions about these requirements please contact Jessica Smith-Kaprosy in the Office of Research Support & Operations at j.smith-kaprosy@wsu.edu.

Related guidance   

Background

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has expressed serious concern about threats to the integrity of U. S. biomedical research. On August 20, 2018, the NIH issued a Dear Colleague letter that identified the following threats:
    • Diversion of intellectual property in grant applications or produced by NIH supported biomedical research to other entities, including other countries;
    • Sharing of confidential information on grant applications by NIH peer reviewers with others, including foreign entities, or otherwise attempting to influence funding decisions; and
    • Failure by some researchers working at NIH-funded institutions in the U.S. to disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments, which threatens to distort decisions about the appropriate use of NIH funds.
  • The National Defense Authorization Act, signed in August 2018, included Sec. 1286, which stated that “The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with other appropriate government organizations, establish an initiative to work with academic institutions who perform defense research and engineering activities . . . to limit undue influence, including through foreign talent programs, by countries to exploit United State Technology.” The Act also prohibits the purchase of telecommunications equipment from specific Chinese companies with the use of federal funds or where federal data will transit the system.
  • Following the passage of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the relationships of U.S. academic institutions with these Chinese companies are also being considered more critically. We encourage employees working in STEM-related areas with Chinese institutions to work closely with the Office of Research Support & Operations, the Export Control Officer, and the Office of International Programs to understand any changes in federal laws or policies that might impact your work.
  • On March 20, 2019 the Department of Defense issued a memo explicitly outlining disclosure requirements for all key personnel listed on research and research-related educational activities supported by DOD grants and contracts.
  • On October 23, 2018, the National Science Foundation issued a statement on “Security and Science” stating that U.S. universities must “embrace transparency and rigorously adhere to conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policies.”
  • On February 1, 2019, the Department of Energy issued a notification stating that the DOE plans to implement a policy, which will mandate that “federal and contractor personnel fully disclose and, as necessary, terminate affiliations with foreign government-supported talent recruitment programs.”
  • As a reminder, 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.”

 

Please note that there are no new statutory or regulatory changes at this time. However, funding opportunity announcements may contain expanded requirements to disclose foreign relationships and activities. In addition, the academic community is seeing an increase in compliance actions related to existing requirements, and funding agencies have indicated that they will be more closely monitoring compliance with these requirements in the future.  

Frequently asked questions

  • Will these issues only affect me if I’m a principal investigator on a federal grant?
    • No. The DOD, the NSF, and the DOE have also issued statements regarding this issue. Given the current U.S. Government focus on this issue, we anticipate similar guidance, statements, or requirements will be forthcoming from other funding agencies. Please see the Background section for more information.
  • Do I need to make disclosures related to the work of my graduate students if they are foreign nationals? Does this affect Postdoctoral scholars?
    • In most cases, there is no reason to disclose participation of foreign students or postdocs on sponsored research, especially if all such work will be performed in the U.S.
    • Classified and export controlled projects will be subject to foreign national restrictions. It may be possible to employ certain foreign nationals on controlled projects after appropriate licenses and/or exemptions are secured.
    • There are no foreign national restrictions on “Fundamental Research” projects. However, there may be cases where working with a student or postdoc might be considered a “foreign component,” if that student or postdoc is performing effort in a foreign country. NIH defines a foreign component 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.”
  • What is Washington State University doing to address the issue?
    • WSU has issued a memo to inform all WSU personnel of emerging developments affecting international collaboration, and to reiterate the responsibilities of WSU personnel to fully disclose external financial interests, affiliations and activities; to follow export regulations; and to safeguard University resources and intellectual property.
    • This guidance has been prepared to provide resources to ensure that research and educational activities conducted abroad or involving foreign partners on campus are conducted in compliance with WSU policies and procedures and obligations to federal sponsors.
  • Can I still work with international sponsors or collaborators?
    • Yes. WSU strongly supports and encourages international collaborations and educational opportunities. Affiliations with international institutions, collaborative research, and scholarly exchanges significantly enrich our research and teaching activities and are essential to the fulfillment of our mission as an educational institution. However, WSU must comply with U.S. laws and regulations that govern how international engagements are managed. Investigators whose research is supported with federal funding should review and update their relevant documents and disclosures as needed. We are seeing an increase in compliance actions related to existing federal requirements and expect close monitoring of disclosures to continue.
  • What if work is outside of my appointment period?
    • Financial resources should be disclosed even if they relate to work that is outside of your appointment period. For example, if you have a 9-month appointment and you spend time during the summer at a university outside of the U.S. under a foreign award, this activity should be disclosed.

How to get assistance

Faculty members should be encouraged to contact their Associate Dean for Research for an initial discussion regarding any foreign affiliations related to their research efforts. Questions regarding individual grants and contracts can be directed to the Office of Research Support & Operations at orso@wsu.edu.

Talent programs

An issue that is garnering a great deal of scrutiny by the federal government is participation in foreign talent programs. Talent programs are designed by some countries to identify and recruit experts associated with desirable expertise and technologies critical to national defense, the intelligence community or key economic sectors. They especially seek expertise in biotechnology, aerospace, information technology, agriculture, transportation and environmental protection.

 

One of the most notable is China’s “Thousand Talents Program.” Typically, researchers from around the world are invited to apply for programs that may entail year-round work in China but more frequently such programs involve work during shorter periods. Recruits often receive funds to establish research labs or institutes associated with their areas of expertise. Additionally, the Chinese government may provide salary, research funding, relocation or housing expenses, health benefits or other significant financial incentives.

 

The U.S. government is undertaking efforts to address national and economic security concerns posed by talent programs. For example, the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directs the Department of Defense (DOD) to work with academic institutions to limit the undue influence of foreign talent programs and support protection of intellectual property. It further calls for the DOD to develop regulations in this area and limit or prohibit funding for institutions or individual researchers who violate them. Additionally, the act directs the DOD to prioritize funding of academic institutions that have a record of excellence in industrial security. DOD has not yet announced how it will implement the 2019 NDAA.

 

DOE has announced that researchers participating in a foreign talent program may not at the same time receive support from a DOE grant or contract. A researcher wishing to seek DOE funding who is in such a talent program must remove their association with the talent program before receiving DOE funding. This requirement will be listed in the current and pending support requirements of the specific DOE funding opportunity announcement.

 

Considering the potential risks, we recommend that our faculty and staff exercise caution in deciding whether to participate in a talent program. Depending on an individual’s research portfolio, he or she may be advised to terminate his or her affiliation with the foreign talent program. For any faculty and staff who are participating in or considering a talent program, please engage promptly with the Office of Research Support & Operations so we can assess and advise on any risks.

 

Export control

Detailed guidance regarding export control can be found here.

 

U.S. export control laws and regulations restrict or require licensing for the export, even temporarily, of many items and technology to countries around the world. All WSU activities, whether conducted domestically or internationally, must comply with U.S. export control laws and regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Treasury Department. WSU employees working abroad, particularly in sensitive countries, should familiarize themselves with these export control laws.

When to think about export control:

  • Traveling internationally and attending conferences;
  • Participating in international collaborations;
  • Using proprietary information;
  • Working with international staff and students;
  • Hosting international visitors;
  • Shipping materials internationally; or
  • Engaging in any international transactions.

 

Please see the Export Control page for additional information. The Export Control Officer in the Office of Research Assurances can assist with any questions regarding export control requirements in a particular country or licensing requirements for specific activities.

Helpful resources

For questions about:

Links to relevant policies and requirements:

 

Questions about the policies cited above should be directed to the responsible unit. Other questions may be submitted to the Office of Research at orso@wsu.edu.