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Guidance: Protecting Against Improper Foreign Interference in Research

October 4, 2022

Dear colleagues,

International collaborations are critical to creating breakthrough advances, and Northwestern highly values global partnerships. However, the federal government continues to have ongoing concerns about improper foreign interference, and federal agencies continue to increase their review requirements. Under National Security Presidential Memo-33 (NSPM-33) guidance issued by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) earlier this year, all federal research funding agencies are required to strengthen and standardize disclosure policies.

Federal agencies have been actively updating their policies and procedures in alignment with NSPM-33. For example, DoD’s Army Research Lab updated its Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) in June 2022 to include stronger requirements regarding disclosure (including potential criminal penalties for failure to comply). In addition, Northwestern has seen increased restrictions placed on award personnel from some Department of Defense (DoD) entities because of their national security reviews. Federal requirements vary by agency, so it is essential to review award terms and guidance and to ask questions.

The Sponsored Research office website provides updated information as agency requirements evolve; please refer to that site for the current requirements.

What does this mean for Northwestern researchers and personnel?

Complete and Update Disclosures:  Complete and update federal agency and Northwestern disclosures. Review the federal requirements and Northwestern disclosure expectations when submitting a proposal or accepting funding. 

Review and use the Northwestern Resources:  Review and use the resources on the federal agency requirements maintained by Sponsored Research (SR) and the foreign influence guidance from the Office of Export Controls & International Compliance (ECIC). 

Understand the terms and conditions: Work closely with your research administrators, SR, and ECIC to understand any foreign influence-related conditions (e.g., foreign person approval, data security requirements, etc.).

Ask Questions:  If you have questions regarding improper foreign interference or the disclosure process, the University’s approach to addressing these concerns, or anything related, please work closely with your dean’s office or unit leader.

Seek Additional Guidance:  The Office of Research (OR) assists researchers in understanding and navigating compliance and legal requirements. Please feel free to direct inquiries to Shandra White, Assistant Vice President for Sponsored Research, or Amy Weber, Senior Director for Export Controls and International Compliance. Please contact Kate Booth, Assistant Vice President, Risk and Compliance, for conflict-of-interest-related matters.


Northwestern Expectations

The following table reiterates nationally accepted best practices  and Northwestern requirements:

Outside Appointments Faculty Must:

 

– Disclose to your dean’s office before accepting any appointment at another institution per the Faculty Handbook

– Disclose any existing outside appointment at Northwestern in eDisclosure for review by their dean’s office

– Include the appointment in documentation to sponsors (e.g. Other Support), along with a copy of any contract or agreement around the appointment

Should:

– Forward a copy of the agreement/appointment letter to their dean’s office for review to identify any potential concerns that should be addressed

Cannot:

– Use Northwestern’s name in any work done for that institution, except as a method of identification

Consulting and Other Agreements Faculty Should:

 

– Review consulting guidelines  and carefully consider the agreement’s IP terms

– Assess agreements for any concerns, consulting with their dean’s office on questions

– Include any consulting work that qualifies as research in Other Support documentation to the NIH and NSF

– Attach agreements for activities (including consulting work) that qualify as research to NIH submissions. Agreements not in English must be translated

Should not:

– Sign any agreement prohibiting disclosure of the existence of the agreement to Northwestern

Cannot:

– Sign agreements on behalf of Northwestern (e.g. cannot form the “Northwestern Institute for X at Y University”)

– Assign, license, or transfer inventions (IP) to another party per the Patent and Invention Policy

Visitors/Volunteers/Interns Faculty Must:

 

– Disclose all visitors/volunteers/interns (whether funded or unfunded) as Other Support to federal sponsors (excluding visitors/volunteers/interns who are undergraduate or high school students)

– Report to your dean’s office or unit leader any concerns about the appropriateness of actions undertaken by the visitor/volunteer/intern, such as misuse of computer or information systems, unauthorized removal of items from the lab, or violation of lab policies or protocols

Should:

– Have some personal reference for the individuals; e.g. know someone who knows the individuals to confirm suitability for your research program

– Contact the Office for Export Controls Compliance to review all international visitors to ensure compliance with a variety of federal restricted party lists

Should not:

– Accept visitors/volunteers/interns into your research group because they are a “free set of hands”

Proper security of materials, data and confidential information Faculty Should:

 

– Consult with Sponsored Research when materials or data will be shared with other institutions, foreign or otherwise, to determine if an agreement, such as a material transfer agreement (MTA), data use agreement (DUA), or nondisclosure agreement (NDA), is needed to govern the use of those materials or data

– Remember that all agreements must be reviewed and signed by institutional officials with appropriate signature authority

– Always consult with Sponsored Research to confirm that terms regarding sensitive or controlled information under a research contract are properly managed, as such terms may require heightened cybersecurity requirements

– Never share and treat as confidential information gained through peer review processes – whether reviewing grant applications or publications

Participating in Research Programs at Other Institutions Faculty Must:

 

– Include access to laboratory space, trainees and other resources at another institution in documentation to sponsors (e.g. Other Support)

– Disclose the work in eDisclosure for review by their dean’s office

– Disclose to your dean’s office if planning to serve as PI at another institution

– Retain copies of the grant and funding notice in English to be provided to the NIH with Other Support documentation

Should:

– Confirm that the other institution does not present concerns via federal restricted party lists by checking with our Office for Export Controls Compliance

– Discuss any such arrangements with the dean’s office to ensure that there are no conflicts of commitment or the appearance of running parallel research programs at two institutions, a so-called “shadow lab”

– International travelers should also consult with their IT department to ensure that any information carried abroad is properly secured and review the Export Controls Compliance FAQs, which provides guidance on traveling internationally

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Faculty Must:

 

– Ensure compliance with the University’s Anti-Bribery Policy prohibiting improper payments to government officials in order to avoid violation of the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Intellectual Property Faculty Must:

 

– Promptly disclose any potential inventions or other intellectual property to the Innovations and New Ventures Office (INVO) to ensure that intellectual property is protected and, when required, appropriately reported to sponsors.

– If you are involved in a startup based on licensed technology from Northwestern, the company must disclose to INVO any investments, partnerships, or sublicenses made with foreign entities.