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Foreign Influence and its Impact on Research Integrity – A Four-Part Series | Part 1: What is Foreign Influence?

By SRAI News posted 01-15-2021 04:12 PM


Foreign Influence and its Impact on Research Integrity – A Four-Part Series | Part 1: What is Foreign Influence?

In this four-part series, we will discuss Part 1: What is Foreign Influence; Part 2: Federal Agencies Polices on Foreign Influences; Part 3: How to Conduct an Investigation; and Part 4: Lessons Learned from the NIH Survey.

What is Foreign Influence?

Foreign Influence in accordance with 32CFR147.4 is a concern that a security risk may exist when an individual's family may be subject to duress. Whereas 32CFR147.5 defines Foreign Preference as a concern that an individual may prefer a foreign country over the United States. Federal agencies have expressed concern that foreign entities may be using university research enterprises to compromise our economic competitiveness and national security.

Federal law enforcement agencies, federal funding agencies, and the academic and research community are working to effectively identify, educate, and combat the increasing problem and harm foreign influence has on research integrity. Part 2 of this series will look at various agencies' communications, guidance, regulations, and policies dealing with undue foreign influence on research integrity.

Foreign Influence encompasses Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs (FGTRP) i.e., China’s Thousand Talents Program; grants and gifts from foreign entities, undisclosed Financial Conflicts of Interest/Conflict of Commitments; and peer review breaches. The term “foreign influence” was first mentioned in a statement issued by NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, in the summer of 2019 where he cited peer review violations of “the sharing of confidential information by peer reviewers with others, including in some instances foreign entities, or otherwise attempting to inappropriately influence funding decisions.”  This cuts at the heart of sanctity and trust that is the cornerstone of the peer review system.  Other examples cited in government agencies’ documents addressing foreign influence concerns include researchers’:

  • Failure to disclose substantial foreign resources such as foreign employment arrangements
  • Foreign grant support that creates a conflict of commitment issues
  • Non-disclosure of substantial foreign research support (free research labor e.g., visiting scholar/students funded by a foreign source); talents awards
  • Unauthorized transfers of information and data
  • Failure to disclose significant foreign financial conflict of interest (FCOI), such as equity in foreign companies and foreign patents, which leverage U.S. taxpayers' funded work
  • Shadowed Laboratories is where the contracts provide incentives for scientists to set up 'shadow labs' in China that mirror US taxpayer-funded research at their home institutions

Part 3 of this series will look at Compliance with Regulatory Requirements: U.S. Export Control laws and regulations that establish requirements for the transfer of technology and data to foreign countries and/or foreign nationals in the U.S and sanctions from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restrict interactions with individuals or entities on the sanctions list.

Finally, Part 4 of this series will look at the lessons learned from the 2020 NIH survey on foreign influence. It is essential for research and academic institutions to be continuously vigilant in oversight of these compliance areas to mitigate brand risk, the loss of federal funds, the risk of undermining intellectual property, and the penalties of enforcement actions.

Graphic Source: OSTP Enhancing the Security and Integrity of America’s Research Enterprise – Strategy Document, June 2020


Authored by Gloria Greene, Assistant Vice President, Contracts and Grants
The University of Alabama in Huntsville
SRAI Distinguished Faculty, SRAI Board of Directors At-Large Member, SRAI Southern Section President

1 comment



01-21-2021 12:56 PM

Thank you Gloria for this series of learning opportunities.  Information that all in research administration need to know.