International Relationships and Activities

Background | How to Protect Yourself | Outcomes | Get Assistance | FAQ

Updated: April 12, 2019

research_map.jpg

 Penn State's publishing collaborations in the last five years.
 Source: Pure.psu.edu

Introduction

The U.S. Government has expressed serious growing concerns regarding inappropriate influence by foreign entities over federally funded research (see Sources below).  One issue that has moved to the forefront is the failure of federally-funded researchers at U.S. institutions to disclose their relationships and activities with foreign institutions and funding agencies. Several Federal agencies have indicated that failure to disclose foreign relationships and activities may jeopardize eligibility for future funding.

Penn State encourages international collaborations, but it is important for our investigators to be transparent about their foreign relationships and activities.  Penn State’s Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) has compiled the following information to provide guidance and resources to remind Penn State researchers of their compliance obligations to federal sponsors.

Rising Concern (Background)

  1. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a Notice on March 30, 2018, reminding research institutions that PIs, sub-awardees and co-PIs must disclose all financial interests received from higher education or governmental institutions in countries outside the United States (NOT-OD-18-160). NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins also sent a memo to institutions on Aug. 20, 2018, stating that the failure to properly disclose foreign relationships threatened to distort decision-making about the use of NIH funds.

     

  2. The National Defense Authorization Act, signed in August 2018, included Sec. 1286, which stated that “The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with other appropriate government organizations, establish an initiative to work with academic institutions who perform defense research and engineering activities . . . to limit undue influence, including through foreign talent programs, by countries to exploit United State Technology ... ”

    On March 20, 2019 the Department of Defense issued a memo explicitly outlining disclosure requirements for all key personnel listed on research and research-related educational activities supported by DoD grants and contracts.
     
     

  3. The National Science Foundation issued a statement on “Security and Science” dated October 23, 2018, stating that US universities must “embrace transparency and rigorously adhere to conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policies.”

     

  4. The Department of Energy issued a notification on February 1, 2019, stating that DOE plans to implement a policy, which will mandate that “federal and contractor personnel fully disclose and, as necessary, terminate affiliations with foreign government-supported talent recruitment programs.”

     

  5. As a reminder, NASA has long-standing restrictions on using NASA funds to enter into agreements “to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company, at the prime recipient level or at any subrecipient level, whether the bilateral involvement is funded or performed under a no-exchange of funds arrangement” (grant restrictions, contract restrictions).
     

 

Best Practices for Disclosing Foreign Relationships and Activities

While most international collaborations are perfectly acceptable and encouraged, we urge researchers to err on the side of transparency. OVPR aims to work closely with the Associate Deans for Research (ADRs) at the Colleges and Commonwealth Campuses to ensure they can provide the best advising for each scenario.

The items below contain guidance regarding the types of relationships and activities that Penn State researchers are expected to disclose:

1. Foreign components of federally funded research should be disclosed on proposals, progress reports, and final technical reports. Under the NIH Grants Policy Statement, a Foreign Component is defined 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" [emphasis added]. The definition of “foreign component” (which can be found here) may include a large number of collaborative activities, including “collaborations with investigators at a foreign site anticipated to result in co-authorship; use of facilities or instrumentation at a foreign site; or receipt of financial support or resources from a foreign entity.” Other sponsors have similar requirements to disclose foreign components.

There are multiple ways in which foreign components can be disclosed, e.g., 

  • Identifying a “foreign component” in an NIH grant application;
  • Listing a “non-U.S. performance site”;
  • Identifying foreign relationships and activities in a biosketch;
  • Checking “yes” to the question on the Cover Page Supplement Form asking, “Does this project involve activities outside of the United States or partnerships with international collaborators?”
  • Financial resources should be disclosed even if they relate to work that is performed outside of a researcher’s appointment period. For example, if a researcher with a 9-month appointment spends two months at a university outside of the U.S. during the summer conducting research under a foreign award, that activity should be disclosed.

Principal Investigators (PIs) should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all foreign components have been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact the Office of Sponsored Programs [osp@psu.edu] to have the error corrected.
 

2. Penn State researchers should ensure they disclose all applicable “Other Support” as required by federal sponsors.  “Other Support” includes all financial resources, domestic or foreign, available in direct support of a researcher’s research endeavors. Such support should be disclosed on an “Other Support” or “Current & Pending” form. (NIH guidance on how to complete “Other Support” can be found here.)   

An issue that is garnering a great deal of scrutiny by the federal government is participation in foreign talent programs, such as China’s Thousand Talents Program. Not only should participation in a foreign talent program be disclosed to federal sponsors, Penn State researchers should also reach out to their ADR to discuss such activity, even if they’ve previously disclosed their participation to other university officials. Depending on an individual’s research portfolio, he or she may be advised to terminate his or her affiliation with the foreign talent program.

Most federal sponsors will have their own guidance on how to complete “Other Support” forms. To generate a preliminary list of your pending proposals and active grants, please click the “Current & Pending Report” button at http://myresearch.psu.edu/. (See screen capture below.) This reporting function will identify any proposals, grants, or contracts that have been processed through Penn State’s Office of Sponsored Programs. It is ultimately the responsibility of the individual researcher to ensure that the report of Other Support is complete and accurate to the best of his or her knowledge.

myresearch_portal.png

Again, PIs should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all Other Support has been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, he or she should contact the Office of Sponsored Programs [osp@psu.edu] to have the error corrected.
 

3.  Significant financial interests received from any foreign entity, including governments and universities, must be disclosed, per Penn State policy RP06 for review by Penn State’s Conflict of Interest Program. The definition of “significant financial interest” is included in RP06, which requires disclosure of remuneration from foreign entities greater than $5K including “Sponsored Travel” greater than $5K received in a 12-month period. If you are unsure whether a particular interest or remuneration meets this definition, please contact the Conflict of Interest Program at COIstaff@psu.edu
 

4. Disclose all foreign consulting and other outside business activities as required in policy AC80. A few common examples of outside business activities include consulting, teaching courses at outside organizations, or entrepreneurial ventures related to your area of research.  
 

5. Detailed guidance regarding foreign travel can be found here.
 

6. Contact the Office of Information Security regarding any compromised accounts or other IT threats at https://security.psu.edu/for-researchers/
 

7. Promptly report inventions or intellectual property to the Office of Technology Management: https://www.research.psu.edu/otm/inventors.

Importance

It protects everyone’s interests – the Federal government, Penn State, individual researchers, and their international collaborators – to have international relationships disclosed and vetted to determine if there are any potential conflict of commitments, duplications of research, and/or diversion of intellectual property in the performance of federally funded research.

In extreme cases, failure to disclose all relationships could result in the termination of funding for a project and potential ineligibility for future funding. Noncompliance can also threaten not only the funding for individual projects, but overall funding for the University and from federal appropriations as a whole.

How to Get Assistance

Faculty members should be encouraged to contact their Associate Dean for Research for an initial discussion regarding any foreign affiliations related to their research efforts. Questions regarding individual grants and contracts can be directed to the Office of Sponsored Programs (osp@psu.edu). Specific questions regarding export compliance can be directed here or here.

FAQ

Do these issues only apply to NIH grants?

No. The Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, 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.

Please see the Background section above for additional details.

Do I need to make disclosures related to the work of my graduate students if they are foreign nationals? Does this affect Postdoctoral scholars?

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 nationals on controlled projects after appropriate licenses and/or exemptions are secured. Please contact Penn State's Export Compliance Office for more information on such cases. There are no foreign national restrictions on “Fundamental Research” projects. (See RA40 for a definition of “Fundamental Research.”) 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."

 

What is Penn State doing to address the issue?

Penn State is working with the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), an association of research institutions, to provide feedback and suggest policy improvements and clarifications around this issue.

Among the suggestions made by the advisory committee to the NIH was to update policies and forms to make requirements more explicit, and clarify when nondisclosure constitutes research misconduct. The Dec. 13, 2018 Report of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director can be found here: https://acd.od.nih.gov/documents/presentations/12132018ForeignInfluences.pdf

Can I add disclosures to current projects or proposals?

Yes – contact OSP at osp@psu.edu to have your application corrected.

Sources:

Sources Updated on April 15, 2019

NIH/Senate Communications:

NIH asks inspector general to investigate 12 allegations of foreign influence in U.S. research: https://www.statnews.com/2019/02/07/nih-inspector-general-allegations-fo...

March 30, 2018 Letter from NIH to research institutions regarding disclosure of foreign financial interests: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-18-160.html

Aug. 20, 2018 Letter from NIH to research institutions regarding increased disclosure: https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/NIH%20Foreign%20Influence%20Letter%20to%20Grantees%2008-20-18.pdf

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s letter to NIH, Oct. 24, 2018: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/chairman-grassley-seeks-transparency-nih-foreign-threats-research-grant-process

NIH response letter to Sen. Grassley, Dec. 21, 2018: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/sites/default/files/constituents/FR01%20WF%20376670%20Final%20Response.signed_0.pdf

Sen. Grassley’s response letter to NIH, Jan. 8, 2019: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/grassley-receives-response-nih-foreign-threats-research-grant-process

Senate Committee on Finance: "Grassley Probes Foreign Threats to Taxpayer-Funded Research at Defense Department," April 2, 2019: https://www.finance.senate.gov/chairmans-news/grassley-probes-foreign-th...

Senate Commitee on Finance letter from Chuck Grassley to NSF Director France A. Córdova, April 15, 2019:  https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2019-04-15%20CEG%20to%20NSF%20(research%20threats)1.pdf

Other Sources:

FBI Report on the risks to academia (PDF): https://www.research.psu.edu/node/3528

NIH presentation on Foreign Influences on Research Integrity (PDF): https://acd.od.nih.gov/documents/presentations/12132018ForeignInfluences...

NSF Statement on security and science dated Oct. 23, 2018: https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2018/NSB-2018-42-statement-on-secur...

NIH Definition of Foreign Component: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/glossary.htm#ForeignComponent

NIH Definition of Other Support: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms/othersupport.htm

NIH Application Instructions (Foreign Components mentioned on page 66): https://grants.nih.gov/grants/how-to-apply-application-guide/forms-e/general-forms-e.pdf

NIH Guidance on Investigator Disclosures of Foreign Financial Interest: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-18-160.html

H.R. 5515 Sec. 1286: National Defense Authorization Act's initiative to protect researchers from undue influence and security threats: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5515/text?utm_me...