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Federal Concerns of Improper Foreign Influence

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Date of Last Revision: June 12, 2020

Federal sponsors of research are concerned about improper foreign influence and the related issues of conflict of interest and conflict of commitment. While they have instituted few restrictions on foreign engagement, all require full disclosure of these activities if they support, or are related to, the sponsored research or require any time commitment from the researcher.


National Institutes of Health

The U.S. government has growing concerns about inappropriate influence by foreign governments over federally funded research. In August 2018, the NIH Director issued a statement about incidents that violate core principles and threaten the integrity and academic competitiveness of U.S. biomedical research and innovation, including:  

  • failure to disclose all conflicts of interest, foreign affiliations, conflicts of commitment, and other support in applications for NIH grants;
  • diversion of proprietary or pre-publication information disclosed in grant applications or produced by NIH-supported research to those not authorized to receive it; and
  • breaches of confidentiality in peer review.

New! (August 2020) NIH's "Protecting U.S. Biomedical Intellectual Innovation" webpage describes actions that NIH, institutions, and researchers can take to protect U.S. biomedical intellectual innovation. This page includes useful disclosure tables and links to NIH policies, statements, reports and more. The principles described here align with those announced by the White House's Office and Science and Technology Policy in June 2020.

The National Institutes of Health issued Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components (NOT-OD-19-114) on July 10, 2019.

Among the key points are:

  • All pending support at the time of application submission and prior to award must be reported.
  • Applicants are responsible for promptly notifying NIH of any substantive changes to previously submitted pending support.
  • If other support is obtained after the initial NIH award period, the details must be disclosed in the annual research performance progress report.
  • Post-award, recipients must address any substantive changes by submitting a prior approval request to NIH.

NIH also issued Frequently Asked Questions about Other Support and Foreign Components.

Note: These disclosure requirements are in addition to Georgia Tech and University Systems of Georgia Conflict of Interest disclosure requirements.


National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation Director sent out a Dear Colleague Letter: Research Protection clarifying numerous policies on July 11, 2019.

Among the key points are:

  • NSF is proposing to use an electronic format for submission of biographical sketches, including disclosure of all appointments.
  • NSF has commissioned a study to assess risks and recommend possible practices for NSF and its awardee organizations to achieve the best balance between openness and security of science.
  • NSF is issuing a policy making it clear that NSF personnel and IPAs detailed to NSF cannot participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs.

Note: These disclosure requirements are in addition to the NSF Conflict of Interest disclosure requirements.


U.S. Department of Defense

Recent Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) from Defense agencies such as DARPA are seeking more detailed disclosures on the sources of support for Principal Investigators and other Key Personnel. National Security Impact Statements are now features of these proposals, with particular attention being paid to plans to transfer technology to U.S. industry and disclosures on whether technologies developed under the contract will be transferred to foreign entities. Proposers are also instructed to disclose any prior instances of transfer of technology to foreign entities.

On March 20, 2019, the Undersecretary of Defense announced new requirements for all new DoD Notices of Funding Opportunities (NFOs) pertaining to new research and research-related educational activities after April 19, 2019.

See the excerpt below and the full March 20, 2019 memo for details.

Excerpt: Proposers must submit the following information for all key personnel—not just the PI and Co-PI—whether or not the individuals' efforts under the project are to be funded by the DoD:

  • A list of all current projects the individual is working on.
  • Any future (pending) support the individual has applied to receive, regardless of the source.
  • Title and objectives of each of these research projects.
  • The percentage per year each of the key personnel will devote to the other projects.
  • The total amount of support the individual is receiving in connection to each of the other research projects or will receive if other proposals are awarded.
  • Name and address of the agencies and/or other parties supporting the other research projects.
  • Period of performance for the other research projects.
  • DoD indicates that failure to submit this information may cause the proposal to be returned without further review. DoD also reserves the right to request further details from a proposer before making a final determination on funding the effort.
DoD: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I have to report all of my projects, even if they are unrelated to my DoD-funded proposal?

Yes. The memo requests a list of all current projects that key personnel are working on, “whether or not the individuals’ efforts under the project are to be funded by the DoD”. We encourage PIs to be transparent in their disclosures, and include all projects funded by gifts, grants or contracts, as well as unfunded projects or collaborations that require disclosure on Conflict of Commitment reporting.

Q: Do I need to disclose US-based industrial support?

Yes. The memo does not distinguished between foreign and domestic sources of corporate support. In the spirit of complete transparency, philanthropic gift support as well as industrial alliances and contract and grant support from corporate entities should be disclosed.

Q: I am responding to an NFO that was issued prior to April 19, 2019. Do these rules still apply?

No. The March 20, 2019 memo only applies to new NFOs after April 19, 2019. Note that the memo only applies to research and research-related educational activities.


U.S. Department of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a directive on June 7, 2019 that prohibits DOE and contractor personnel from participating in talent recruitment programs operated by certain foreign countries. While this directive does not directly affect faculty who are unaffiliated with DOE or its National Labs, it illustrates a pervasive concern across the federal agencies. DOE is still developing guidance to its community of university performers.