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Science and Security: What You Should Know

By SRAI News posted 12-11-2019 02:30 PM


Science and Security: What You Should Know

The US Government and several funding agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to name a few, have expressed growing concerns related to inappropriate influence by foreign entities over federal research.

One critical issue that has moved to the forefront is the failure of federally-funded researchers at US institutions to disclose their relationships and activities with foreign institutions and funding agencies. Several agencies have indicated that failure to disclose foreign relationships and activities may jeopardize the institution's eligibility for future funding. Research institutions encourage international collaboration; however, disclosure of foreign relationships and activities are a must.  

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines a foreign component as: “The performance of 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. Activities that would meet this definition include, but are not limited to, (1) the involvement of human subjects or animals, (2) extensive foreign travel by recipient project staff for the purpose of data collection, surveying, sampling, and similar activities, or (3) any activity of the recipient that may have an impact on US foreign policy through involvement in the affairs or environment of a foreign country. Examples of other grant-related activities that may be significant are: 

  • 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.

Foreign travel for consultation is not considered a foreign component.”

When our researchers do not properly disclose external foreign employment agreements – these are some of the issues that arise which can cause conflict with their US federal support for the same project(s):

  • “Shadow laboratories”
  • Time commitment – Creates conflicts of commitment (>100% effort)
  • Substantial funding for research (including start-up funds)
  • Laboratory, equipment, personnel
  • Signing bonus, salary, housing, other benefits
  • Deliverables: training personnel, papers, patents/intellectual property (IP)

The resulting dilemma becomes how to ethically and legally encourage and support foreign collaborations while allowing for complete transparency. The key is open and honest communication with your research community. Expectations must be clearly stated and documented so that all parties involved are aware of the rules and the consequences for not following them.

Want to know more?


Understanding what’s at stake and its impact on your institution is a must. SRAI is offering a Winter Intensive Training in Nashville, TN, entitled “Science & Security: Facilitation a Compliant and Inclusive Research Environment in the Wake of Foreign Influences Concern.” This two-day intensive training program (January 29-30, 2020), conducted by Susan Wyatt Sedwick, PhD, CRA, CSM, Senior Consulting Specialist, Attain, LLC, will offer practical advice on how to handle situations of non-compliance in reporting of relationships with and/or non-monetary relationships with foreign entities, navigating the labyrinth of laws entangled in such violations, dealing with enforcement visits, making determinations on whether export controls laws were violated and how to handle voluntary and directed disclosures.

For additional information on the training and registration details, please click the following link:

Timely news articles and reports on this topic:

Ropes and Gray Science and Security News Alert from 12-16-19:

JASON report on NSF:

US Failing to Stop China From Stealing Research, Report Says (Nov. 18, 2019). The Associated Press.

Threats to the US Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans. US Senate Staff Report's%20Talent%20Recruitment%20Plans%20Updated.pdf

NIH probe of foreign ties has led to undisclosed firings—and refunds from institution. Mervis, J. (June 26, 2019).


Authored by: 

Gloria W. Greene, MA, CRA
Director, Office of Sponsored Programs, The University of
Alabama in Huntsville

Debra Schaller-Demers, MSOM
Senior Director, Research Outreach and Compliance, Memorial Sloan Ketterring Cancer Center