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December’s Headlines to Feature Deep Dive on Threats to Research Security

headlines bannerCOSSA members are encouraged to sign up for the monthly COSSA Headlines webchat on Thursday December 12, in which COSSA staff will recap the most important social and behavioral science news from the past month and answer participants’ questions. The December chat will feature a deep dive discussion on understanding the threats to U.S. research security with Toby Smith, Vice President for Policy at the Association of American Universities. Individuals employed by or affiliated with a COSSA member organization or university can register for the webchat here.

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Posted in Update

OSTP Seeks Input on Research Environment

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has issued a request for information (RFI) on the research environment. Comments will be used to inform the work of the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE), a committee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). JCORE was established in May 2019 and comprises four subcommittees: (1) Research Rigor and Integrity; (2) Coordinating Administrative Requirements for Research; (3) Research Security; and (4) Safe and Inclusive Research Environments (see previous coverage).

The request asks for information on actions that Federal agencies can take, working in partnership with private industry, academic institutions, and non-profit/philanthropic organizations, to maximize the quality and effectiveness of the American research environment across JCORE’s four main areas. More information on the specific questions JCORE is seeking feedback on are available in the Federal Register notice. Comments are due by 11:59 pm ET on December 23, 2019.

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Posted in Issue 24 (December 10), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Senate Subcommittee Releases Report, Holds Hearing on Securing U.S. Research from Foreign Talent Recruitment Plans

On November 18, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a staff report on federal agencies’ efforts to protect the U.S. research enterprise from illegal technology transfer and research espionage occurring through foreign talent recruitment activities such as China’s Thousand Talents Plan. The report offers details of prevention activities employed at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of State, the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as well as a series of recommendations to improve these agencies’ efforts to prevent foreign interference in the U.S. research enterprise. The report can be found on PSI website.

A day later, PSI held a hearing to address the findings of the staff report and to improve upon current federal agency efforts to prevent intellectual property theft and technology transfer through foreign talent recruitment programs. Witnesses included Assistant Director of Counterintelligence at the FBI John Brown, Head of the Office of International Science and Engineering at NSF Rebecca Keiser, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at NIH Michael Lauer, Director of the Office of Science at DOE Christopher Fall, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs (BCA) Edward Ramotowski.

PSI Chairman Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), and other Members questioned the witnesses on the findings of the staff report and on agency knowledge of Chinese efforts to exploit the U.S. research enterprise. Several salient issues were discussed, such as agency efforts to harmonize security infrastructure and policies, ethics concerns over FBI investigations of international students, potential gaps in the visa control process, and raising awareness of security problems among the academic community. Statements from Portman, Carper, and a video recording of the hearing is available on the PSI website.

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Posted in Issue 23 (November 26), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

NIH Evaluates Strategy on Countering Foreign Influence in Research

On September 25, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released three reports addressing efforts to combat the prevalence of foreign influence in research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The OIG reports evaluate three tactics used in NIH’s strategy in securing research from foreign influence in institutional reporting of foreign financial interests and affiliations, reviewing financial conflicts of interest in extramural research, and securing the peer review process from foreign influence. The OIG reports each provide several recommendations to the NIH on how to improve these initiatives.

The strategy comes as a follow up to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins’ August 2018 letter to over 10,000 institutions expressing concern over foreign influence in research settings. You can find previous  coverage on a Congressional hearing concerning foreign influence at NIH on the COSSA website.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 1), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

OSTP Outlines Research Security Priorities

In a September 16 letter to the research community, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegemeier described several of the office’s priorities and planned activities for protecting the security of the U.S. research enterprise. The letter expresses concern over recent efforts by some foreign powers to “exploit, influence, and undermine our research activities and environments,” and concludes that “United States policies and practices must evolve thoughtfully and appropriately” to guard against such attacks. In particular, the letter notes that talent-recruitment programs sponsored by foreign governments have been at the center of several attempts to exploit U.S. research.

OSTP is seeking to discourage and prevent breaches of research ethics, including: “failure to disclose required information such as foreign funding, unapproved parallel foreign laboratories (so-called shadow labs), affiliations and appointments, and conflicting financial interests,” as well as “conducting undisclosed research for foreign governments or companies on United States agency time or with United States agency funding, diversion of intellectual property or other legal rights, and breaches of contract and confidentiality in or surreptitious gaming of the peer-review process.”

The Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE), a committee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) established in May 2019, plans to take up these issues. In addition to the Research Security subcommittee, which will focus on foreign-power interference in U.S. research, JCORE also contains subcommittees on Safe and Inclusive Research Environments, Research Rigor and Integrity, and Coordinating Administrative Requirements for Research.

JCORE’s Research Security work will focus on four areas: (1) Coordinating outreach and engagement with federal agencies and other stakeholders to increase awareness of foreign interference in research; (2) Establishing and coordinating disclosure requirements for participation in federally-funded research enterprise (such as the requirements recently circulated by NSF and NIH); (3) Developing best practices for academic research institutions; and (4) Developing methods for identification, assessment, and management of risk in the research enterprise.

OSTP plans to hold meetings at academic institutions over the coming months to further discuss this issue with stakeholders. COSSA will provide more details as they become available.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 17), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

NSF Releases Dear Colleague Letter on Research Protection

The Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a Dear Colleague Letter on July 11 summarizing efforts at the agency to address security risks to the U.S. science and engineering enterprise. The letter explains that while international collaboration is still a priority of NSF, they are instituting policies to ensure NSF research is protected from foreign interference and other security threats.

The letter outlines some upcoming and proposed policy changes related to research security. The imminent plans include changes to the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide to include clarifications of reporting requirements for support from NSF, both current and pending, as well as professional appointments. The draft Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide is currently open for comment in the Federal Register. Additionally, the agency is issuing a policy clarifying that NSF personnel and detailees working at the agency through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (or IPAs) cannot participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs.

The letter also includes a proposal, likely to take effect in January 2020, requiring grantees to use an electronic format for submission of biographical sketches, including disclosure of all appointments.

Lastly, NSF has commissioned the independent scientific advisory group JASON to conduct 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. More information and the Dear Colleague Letter can be found on the NSF website.

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Posted in Issue 15 (July 23), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

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