GAO Releases Review of Federal Agency Policies on Foreign Interference in Research

On December 17, 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report reviewing the policies at five major federal research agencies intended to secure federally funded research from foreign interference. The five agencies under review, the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Science Foundation (NSF), were evaluated on their existing policies requiring researchers to disclose foreign conflicts of interest – including non-financial conflicts of interest such as honorary appointments – and their procedures for addressing failures to disclose these conflicts of interest.

Findings from the report showed that most agencies have taken some actions to improve research security, although noticeable gaps existed in the disclosure policies of non-financial conflicts of interest and the disciplinary procedures for failure to disclose conflicts of interest. The report makes nine recommendations to federal agencies to improve research security policies. Each of the agencies receiving recommendations agreed with GAO’s assessment except for NSF, which neither agreed nor disagreed but still identified actions it would take to address the recommendations.

The recommendations are:

  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should issue pending guidance and expedite the guidance process for research security issues.
  • DOD should develop an agency-wide policy on conflicts of interest for grants.
  • DOD should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
  • DOE should develop an agency-wide policy on conflicts of interest for grants.
  • DOE should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
  • NIH should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.
  • NASA should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.
  • NASA should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
  • NSF should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.

COSSA released two HOT TOPIC pieces in January 2020 and October 2020 providing detailed summaries of recent developments in research security policies. The GAO report is available in full on the GAO website.

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Posted in Issue 1 (January 5), Update, Volume 40

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