Research Security & Transparency

Research Security & Transparency Faculty Guidance

Research Security or “foreign influence” is an issue that continues to receive increased attention in the media and by Congress, as well as all major federal agencies sponsoring research at Northeastern University and at our peer institutions.

While Northeastern University strongly supports and encourages international collaboration and values our global network, including partnerships and collaborations, it is important that all faculty members understand the concerns being expressed. We also recognize the importance of consolidating Northeastern’s available tools and resources, to simplify and inform any actions that may need to take at the college or individual level in response to this information.

Recently, the U.S. Government has raised concerns about foreign threats to the integrity of research at U.S. academic and research institutions. These concerns include:

  • Diversion of intellectual property to foreign entities;
  • Disclosing confidential grant application information by NIH peer reviewers to third parties; and
  • Failure of researchers to disclose research resources and support provided by other organizations, including foreign entities.

Some examples of this include:

  • A reminder Guide Notice from the NIH regarding investigator disclosures of foreign financial interests; a letter sent by the director of the NIH, Francis Collins alerting the research community to “threats” from foreign entities;
  • A DoD memo issued on March 20, 2019 that explicitly outlines disclosure requirements for all key personnel listed on research and research related educational activities supported by DoD grants and contracts;
  • A Department of Energy (DOE) talent policy notification stating that the 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”;
  • In a dear colleague letter issued in July 2019, former NSF Director France Cordova highlighted NSF’s concerns and outlined plans to clarify expectations for current and pending support, as well as to prohibit participation in talent programs by NSF staff, including those at NSF on an IPA;
  • Since 2011, NASA has restricted bilateral activity with China. This law limits NASA’s ability to fund research performed bi-laterally with the Chinese government or Chinese companies as outlined in NASA’s current Grant and Cooperative Agreement Manual.
  • and Section 889 of the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act, which restricts federal funding to institutions doing business with certain Chinese telecommunications companies and their subsidiaries via 2 CFR 200.216 (applies to grants and cooperative agreements across all federal awarding agencies) and FAR 52.204-25 (applies to FAR-based contracts with federal agencies when included in the contract).

In response to the above examples, Northeastern recommends all faculty and staff re-examine their documentation to ensure compliance with respect to mandatory reporting of all sources of research support, financial interests and relevant affiliations. Colleges may also want to work with Research Compliance to provide additional guidance to reduce risk to IP security. Academic research institutions must have a heightened awareness and interest in understanding the relationships federally-funded faculty may have with foreign governments or entities.

As Northeastern University continues to strengthen existing international collaborations and pursue new opportunities that benefit our faculty, students, and research objectives, we ask that faculty and all principal investigators remain mindful of the following requirements:

  • Regulations around export controls are complex and constantly evolving, and there several issues to be considered before engaging in a wide range of export-controlled activities.  Consult the university’s export control webpage for general export control related questions.  The university’s Policy on Export Controls is currently under review and revision.  Any questions regarding export control compliance or the policy and procedures should be sent to researchcompliance@northeastern.edu.
  • Certain organizations, individuals are subject to sanctions, embargoes, and other restrictions under US law.  These restrictions can apply to both foreign and domestic transactions.  Northeastern uses Visual Compliance to screen and quickly check and document whether a person or an organization is a restricted party.  Send an email to compliance@northeastern.edu to request access under Northeastern’s license agreement with Visual Compliance.
  • Certain countries are subject to either comprehensive sanctions or targeted sanctions.  Since these designations are subject to change and travel would be impacted accordingly, remember that all student and faculty university-related travel should be registered in Northeastern’s international travel registry.  Any travel to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and the Crimea Region of the Ukraine must be disclosed to the export control officer via researchcompliance@northeastern.edu as early in the planning stage as possible to ensure appropriate government clearance can be requested.
  • International travelers should also consult the Northeastern’s Digital Safety Guidance to ensure that any information carried abroad is properly secured in compliance with the Policy on Computers and Mobile Devices for International Travel.
  • If you do not have access to Visual Compliance, reach out to compliance@northeastern.edu for questions regarding international visitors and foreign entities (e.g., vendors, contractors, universities) to ensure compliance with a variety of federal restricted party lists.
  • Visiting scientists are an asset to Northeastern. In addition to restricted party screening, it is important to follow proper appointment procedures to ensure that we obtain the required documentation to ensure that individuals are properly reviewed and approved.  In addition, the export control officer will need to review the I-129 Visa attestation to ensure that visiting scientists are given access to university space and systems that is appropriate for the proposed work. Offices to engage when considering visiting scientist, scholar and student engagement include your college’s human resources and Dean’s Office and researchcompliance@northeastern.edu.
  • Be diligent in evaluating the nature of any visiting collaborators:  visitors with extended stays, or who do not have the appropriate background for the anticipated research activity, must be carefully scrutinized. Any activity that raises suspicion should be thoroughly evaluated in consultation with your Dean’s Office and Research Compliance.
  • When materials or data will be shared with other institutions, foreign or otherwise, it is often prudent to have an agreement, such as a material transfer agreement (MTA), data use agreement (DUA), or nondisclosure agreement (NDA), in place governing the use of those materials or data. Having an agreement also allows the university to complete all required internal controls and checks.  For assistance with in-coming and out-going MTAs, DUAs and NDAs, contact NU-RES via eCLAWS.
  • Remember that all agreements must be reviewed and signed by institutional officials with appropriate signature authority.
  • Accepting any sensitive or controlled information under a research contract may require heightened cybersecurity requirements. Always consult with NU-RES and researchcompliance@northeastern.edu to confirm that these requirements are properly managed.
  • To ensure that university intellectual property is protected and, when required, appropriately reported to sponsors, promptly disclose any potential inventions or other intellectual property to the Center for Research Innovation (CRI).
  • If you are involved in a startup based on licensed technology from Northeastern, the company should disclose to CRI any investments, partnerships, or sublicenses made with foreign entities.
  • Always remember that all information gained through peer review processes – whether reviewing grant applications or publications – is confidential and should never be shared. The letter sent by the director of the NIH, Francis Collins specifically reminds the research community to adhere to the confidentiality of these processes.
  • Individuals serving on NIH, NSF or other federal agency scientific peer review panels should note and comply with all requirements to maintain the confidentiality of the information in research grant applications.

National Institutes of Health

National Science Foundation

Department of Education

Department of Energy

  • You may not enter into informal or unofficial agreements to restrict publication or sharing of research results. University policy prohibits acceptance of publication restrictions in research, except in the case of unusual exceptions which can only be negotiated by University officials who have delegated authority to accept contracts and grants.
  • You must comply with U.S. export control regulations when doing any of the following: traveling internationally and attending conferences; participating in international collaborations; using proprietary information; working with international staff and students; hosting international visitors; shipping materials internationally; or engaging in any international transactions.

All research personnel whose research is supported with federal funding should update their other support documentation.  This includes NIH Other Support, for awarded projects or projects that are pending issuance of a new award. For NSF current and pending support, include all sources of support and commitments of time, even if not receiving salary support.

Biosketches should be current and thorough.

The NIH policy applies to foreign involvement in any of the work scope, regardless of whether NIH funds are actually expended to directly pay for such involvement. NIH has clarified that the policy also applies to unfunded collaborations where a foreign entity or person performs work contributing to the NIH work scope, at no charge to the NIH grant (e.g., performing an analysis, animal study).

NIH has now reminded the research community that “receipt of financial support or resources from a foreign entity” includes visiting scientists funded by foreign sources who are engaged in NIH work scope while collaborating with NIH-funded faculty here.

Given this last clarification, NIH expects researchers—at a minimum—to disclose the in-kind support that visiting scientists provide as part of the “Other Support” portion of the grant application. Furthermore, NIH also requires prior approval of a foreign component if the visiting scientist will continue to perform any of the NIH grant work scopes upon return to their home country.

It is imperative that researchers seek prior approval as a foreign component if NIH-funded work is performed in a foreign country or by foreign collaborators, and that researchers disclose as part of “Other Support” the involvement of foreign students or visiting faculty or scholars funded from foreign sources who are participating in NIH-funded work here.

Other federal agency sponsors may have different requirements. Please check the specific funding opportunity announcement and relevant agency grant policies for individual applications and if you have any questions, please reach out to OSR or the School of Medicine SPO.

For key personnel, progress reports should indicate any change in support that occurred over the last budget year.

In addition, COI disclosures need to occur prior to an application being submitted, annually thereafter, and whenever there are changes in their financial interests in keeping with the Policy on Financial Conflict of Interest Related to Research.

Researchers must take reasonable efforts to protect the University’s interest (and, in the case of federally-sponsored research, the federal government’s interest) in intellectual property developed in the course of their Northeastern research.  Intellectual property developed under a sponsored research agreement is subject to the University’s Patent and Copyright Policy.

Northeastern University is committed to maintaining an open and robust research environment while complying with applicable laws and regulations and protecting the integrity of our research.

These requirements are complex. For that reason, resources and links are available to assist you in understanding and complying with these obligations. In addition, the staff of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, Research Compliance Office, University Compliance Office, CRI, and others linked in this message, are familiar with these issues and policies and are here to guide and assist you.

We would like to thank the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for their generosity in allowing us to use their research security website as the basis for this page.

Last Updated on November 30, 2020