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Guidance: Protecting Against Improper Foreign Interference in Research

January 10, 2022

Dear colleagues,

As recently communicated by Dr. Eric Lander, Presidential Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the federal government remains committed to retaining America’s status as a “leading magnet for talented scientists,” while simultaneously guarding against research security challenges.  At Northwestern, we continue to support global research collaborations and our international research community, while ensuring researchers are aware of their obligations to protect against improper foreign interference in academic research.  This guidance provides the research community with updated information on specific agency requirements as well as Northwestern expectations.

Agency Requirements

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released new requirements and templates for Other Support and the Biographical Sketch effective January 25, 2022. One change requires attaching a copy of related agreements to NIH Other Support submissions. For information on which agreements and which activities should be included in these documents, please reference the NIH’s website, “Protecting U.S. Biomedical Intellectual Innovation,” which provides a useful chart of “Examples of What to Disclose to NIH about Senior/Key Personnel on Applications and Awards,” and the NIH’s FAQs on Other Support and Foreign Components.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) also updated its guidance for what should be included in Current and Pending documentation and released a series of FAQs for what should be included. See also the Council on Government Relations’ guidance on what should be disclosed to meet NSF requirements.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued revised contract terms for any work performed on-site at a National Laboratory, and new requirements  regarding foreign national involvement in DOE-funded work.
  • The Department of Defense has updated instructions for what information should be included in Previous/Current/Pending Support documentation, aligning with a 2019 Memorandum (e.g. CDMRP FY21 General Application Instructions; pp.15-16).
  • In a recent notice to universities, DARPA released  a risk matrix as part of its Countering Foreign Influence Program (CFIP) to help identify and mitigate undue foreign influence conflicts of commitment/conflicts of interest.
  • Federal research sponsors have clarified disclosure requirements regarding visitors; see the updated instructions in the “/Volunteers/Interns” section below.

Northwestern’s Sponsored Research office website also provides helpful general guidance on these 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.

If you have questions regarding foreign influence, the University’s approach to addressing these concerns, or anything related, please work closely with your dean’s office or unit leader and always feel free to direct inquiries to: Shandra White, Executive Director for Sponsored Research; or Kate Booth, Senior Director of Compliance. You may also contact Ann Adams, Senior Associate Vice President for Research.

Milan Mrksich
Vice President for Research