Research security has emerged as a top priority for US institutions receiving sponsored project funds from federal sponsors.
National Security Presidential Memorandum 33 (NSPM-33) on National Security Strategy for United States Government-Supported Research and Development was released in January 2021 with the goal of securing federally funded research and protecting US innovation. NSPM-33 directs funding agencies to require research institutions receiving more than $50 million per year in federal funding to certify that they have established and operate a Research Security Program as a condition of funding. This program, at a minimum, will include four main areas of focus: research security training, cybersecurity, foreign travel security and export control training.
Implementation Guidance for NSPM-33 defines research security as “safeguarding the research enterprise against the misappropriation of research and development to the detriment of national or economic security, related violations of research integrity, and foreign government interference.”
This webpage serves as a resource for guidance regarding foreign influence in research and research security, including sponsor-specific guidance, investigator responsibilities, and steps that Augusta University is taking to develop its Research Security Program. Content will be updated as additional information becomes available.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and federal sponsors such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Energy (DoE) have issued communications with the research community about research security and have expressed concerns regarding foreign influence in research due to:
Augusta University seeks to promote principled international collaborations which enable cutting-edge research that no nation can achieve alone, train up minds capable of solving global problems, and strengthen scientific and diplomatic relations.
All foreign components of federally funded research should be disclosed during proposals, progress reports, and final technical reports. Investigators with external funding should carefully review the sponsor’s current disclosure requirements and contact the Division of Sponsored Program Administration for assistance or further guidance. In addition, investigators should:
Review and update ‘Current and Pending Support’ information and ‘Other support’ information in pending proposals and active awards per sponsor-specific guidance
Review and update biosketches and ensure all professional appointments and collaborations, both foreign and domestic, paid and unpaid, are disclosed according to sponsor requirements in proposals and reports
Ensure appropriate disclosure of foreign components for NIH-supported projects
Faculty and staff should also familiarize themselves with AU’s Individual Conflict of Interest Policy and Outside Activities and Off-Campus Duty policy and be fully transparent in disclosing outside interests and commitments. Please refer to Tools for Researchers for current policies.
The federal government has directed research institutions to exercise extreme caution related to involvement with foreign talent recruitment programs due to the concern they may be used by foreign governments to acquire U.S. government-funded scientific research and valuable intellectual property. Please contact the Director, Research Ethics and Compliance for Restricted Party Screening if you are considering participation in a foreign recruitment or talent program. This proposed activity should also be disclosed to your academic leadership as with any other Outside Activity.
Export controls are federal laws that regulate the distribution of controlled devices, software, and information when such items are designated as “defense articles” or "dual use" commodities. Additionally, please contact the Director, Research Ethics and Compliance for export compliance assistance if you plan to:
Investigators should utilize a Data Use Agreement (DUA), Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) or Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) when sharing or exchanging data or materials. Note that all agreements must be reviewed and signed by institutional officials with the appropriate signature authority. Accepting controlled information or restrictions under research agreements may require the use of Technology Control Plans (TCP) or heightened cybersecurity. If you accept or anticipate accepting controlled information, contact the Director, Research Ethics and Compliance to request a review and establish a TCP.
AU implements several baseline safeguarding protocols and procedures used to store, transmit, and conduct federally funded R&D. These protocols are designed to protect scientific data from ransomware and other data integrity attack mechanisms. All AU community members have a stake in reducing risks that could impact the university’s financial, reputational, and legal standing. Further information may be requested through AU’s IT department.
Investigators should review AU’s Intellectual Property policy and ensure all University IP is appropriately disclosed and protected. Please refer to Tools for Researchers for current policies.
In compliance with the federal regulations, Augusta University is also developing an updated travel registry and travel briefs for researchers traveling outside of the United States. AU’s Research Security foreign travel policy can be found in the Tools for Researchers. AU’s Research Security office will maintain records of international travel for covered individuals seeking or receiving Federal R&D funding. Individuals traveling internationally for organizational business, teaching, conference attendance, research purposes, or who receive offers of sponsored travel for research or professional purposes will be required to register their travel with AU.
According to the NSPM-33 Implementation Guidance, an Insider Threat is defined as "the potential for an insider to use their authorized access or understanding of an organization to harm that organization. This harm can include malicious, complacent, or unintentional acts that negatively affect the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of the organization, its data, personnel, or facilities."
Should AU researchers avoid international collaborations?
No. International collaboration is valued by AU and remains an essential part of the research and educational missions of the University. There are many options to pursue international collaborations at AU via university-to-university agreements, research sponsorship agreements, visitor and student exchange, etc. Support for research must be disclosed and any personal contracts or agreements between yourself and another institution must be disclosed in the COI system.
How is AU addressing Foreign Influence?
AU is engaged with federal agencies, research sponsors and national organizations and will continue to ask for disclosures from researchers.
What are specific concerns regarding foreign influence in the academic setting?
The FBI and other federal government agencies have expressed concern that some foreign actors, particularly foreign state adversaries, are seeking to acquire U.S. academic research and information illicitly or illegitimately in order to advance their scientific, economic, and military development goals through the exploitation of the culture of collaboration and openness on university campuses. More specifically, NIH has identified three areas of concern: diversion of intellectual property; peer reviewers inappropriately sharing confidential information on grant applications; and failure of researchers at NIH-funded U.S. institutions to disclose foreign affiliations and collaborations, and/or substantial resources received from other organizations, including foreign governments and universities.
Do these issues apply only to NIH Grants?
The Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Energy 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.
What are “foreign talent recruitment programs” and why is there concern about them?
The federal government is concerned that foreign talent recruitment programs may be used by foreign governments to acquire, legally and illegally, U.S. government-funded scientific research in order to dominate high technology sectors currently led by U.S. entities. As described by the FBI, these programs target individuals who are working in technological fields of interest to the foreign government, offering competitive salaries, state-of-the-art research facilities and/or honorific titles in an effort to encourage the transfer of ideas and intellectual property. The Department of Energy defines a foreign talent recruitment program as an effort directly or indirectly organized, managed, or funded by a foreign government to recruit science and technology professionals or students (regardless of citizenship or national origin, and whether having a full-time or part-time position).
What is the federal government doing to address concerns about foreign talent recruitment programs?
At present, there is no generally applicable U.S. legal or regulatory prohibition on participation in a foreign recruitment program. However, the Department of Energy (DOE) recently issued and that prohibits DOE employees and contractor employees from participating in certain foreign talent recruitment programs to ensure protection of U.S. competitive and national security interests as well as DOE program objectives. Similarly, NSF announced a policy prohibiting NSF personnel and Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) detailees to NSF from participating in foreign government talent recruitment programs due to risk concerns. While there is no legal prohibition on participating in these programs, it is important to fully disclose participation in any foreign talent recruitment program to the University as well as any governmental agency, if asked.
What steps must I take in response to these concerns?
Do I need to end my foreign collaborations and/or stop welcoming foreign students and visitors into my lab?
Augusta University has always and will continue to encourage and support foreign collaborations. However, consistent with federal agency guidance you must obtain prior approval prior to foreign travel or adding a foreign component if required by the terms and conditions of the award and you should provide information to your research sponsors about all foreign collaborations and ensure that all foreign Research Visitors are screened through the Export Controls Compliance, confirming that there are no restrictions upon hosting such visitors. That said, there remains considerable concern with foreign talent programs. If you are involved in or are invited to participate in such a program, you should disclose this involvement and obtain guidance from your school/college or departmental research administration staff, or AU’s Research Administration
Do I need to make disclosures related to the work of graduate students if they are Foreign Persons?
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. However, classified and export-controlled projects will be subject to foreign national restrictions. It may be possible to employ certain foreign persons on controlled projects after appropriate licenses and/or exemptions are secured. Please contact the Research Security office for more information on such cases. 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."
I have a visitor in my lab who is supported by his/her foreign institution. S/he is not funded by any of my federal grants. Do I need to account for this visitor in proposals or progress reports? If so, how?
We do not have specific guidance from all sponsors on this topic, however, per NIH guidelines, this person’s work on the project should be documented as follows:
As a “Foreign Component” if the individual performed part of the work while in your AU lab, but also made a significant contribution to the project a from his/her home institution, or any other foreign location (e.g., collecting data at a foreign site, running samples on instrumentation there, and/or will be a co-author on publications arising from the grant). In accordance with NIH policy, the addition of a foreign component requires NIH prior approval.
I have family in countries outside the United States and I travel for personal reasons. Do I need to disclose all travel to the University – even if it is unrelated to my AU work?
If you intend to travel internationally with your work laptop or other AU device, you should be mindful of any sensitive data that the device may contain and take steps to ensure the security of those data. Please contact the Research Administration office with any questions and refer to AU’s current travel policy.
How do I know if a company, university, or other entity creates risk? Do you have examples of entities that I should not work with or that invite extra scrutiny?
The federal government maintains lists of entities that are higher risk, information that changes frequently. AU uses software called Visual Compliance to screen proposed partners of AU against these lists, including sponsors of research, proposed vendors or subcontractors, and others. One well-publicized example of a company that has received federal government attention is Huawei, which the federal government recently placed on a restricted list. Please contact the Research Administration if you have any questions about engaging with foreign entities – including accepting gifts.
I have been invited to a foreign institution to present at a conference. If I attend, do I need to disclose my participation to sponsors? To AU?
If that travel establishes a relationship with a foreign university, government, or other entity (e.g., results in an honorary or visiting appointment or an offer to set up laboratory space at that institution), then that may need to be disclosed, depending on the sponsor and their specific guidelines.
Yes, you should disclose the relationship with the foreign institution to AU via the disclosures system. Provide as many details as possible in the disclosure form.
I am getting ready to submit a paper with many – possibly hundreds – of co-authors, some of which are foreign and were undoubtedly funded by grants in their home country (i.e., foreign funding). Does each of those individuals need to be accounted for as a Foreign Component?
Please reach out to your NIH/NSF Program Officer to confirm whether these individuals constitute a foreign component. When required, disclosure of foreign co-authors to the NIH should occur prior to working with the foreign co-author(s). Other sponsors have not specifically commented on this; should you have questions, please consult your sponsor point of contact.
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