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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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