Research Security FAQs

The FBI and other federal government agencies have expressed concern that some foreign actors, particularly foreign state adversaries, are seeking to acquire U.S. academic research and information illicitly or illegitimately.

The NIH identified three areas of concern: diversion of intellectual property; peer reviewers inappropriately sharing confidential information on grant applications; and failure of researchers at NIH-funded U.S. institutions to disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments. These concerns have been shared by other funding agencies.

No. The Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy have also issued statements regarding this issue. Given the current U.S. Government focus on this issue, we anticipate similar guidance, statements, or requirements will be forthcoming from other funding agencies

The federal government is concerned that foreign talent recruitment programs may be used by foreign governments to acquire, legally and illegally, U.S. government-funded scientific research in order to dominate high technology sectors currently led by U.S. entities. As described by the FBI, these programs target individuals who are working in technological fields of interest to the foreign government, offering competitive salaries, state-of-the-art research facilities and/or honorific titles in an effort to encourage the transfer of ideas and intellectual property. The Thousand Talents Program and the Russian Federation’s Mega Grants are examples of foreign talent recruitment programs.

J-CORE, a committee in the White House’s Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) plans to release a formal definition of a “talent program” in the coming weeks.

At present, there is no generally applicable U.S. legal or regulatory prohibition on participation in a foreign recruitment program. However, the Department of Energy (DOE) recently issued an internal directive that prohibits DOE employees and contractor employees from participating in certain foreign talent recruitment programs to ensure the protection of U.S. competitive and national security interests as well as DOE program objectives. Similarly, NSF announced a policy prohibiting NSF personnel and Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) detailees to NSF from participating in foreign government talent recruitment programs due to risk concerns.

Refer to the University’s Agency Matrix for Disclosures summarizing disclosure requirements. Make your sponsors aware of your collaborations and interactions with foreign entities that support or contribute to your research program; federal agencies are expecting a thorough account of touchpoints between your research program and any foreign entity. For an explanation of the various requirements imposed by federal sponsors, please check the Research Security webpage maintained by NU-RES Research Compliance.

This area is rapidly evolving. NIH and NSF have a lot of information available on their websites and the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense has also alluded to forthcoming changes that will be necessitating changing some requirements in both proposals and progress reports.

NSF: Current and pending support includes all resources made available to an individual in support of and/or related to all of his/her research efforts, regardless of whether or not they have a monetary value. Current and pending support also includes in-kind contributions (such as office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees, students. In-kind contributions not intended for use on the project/proposal being proposed also must be reported. Current and pending support information must be provided for this [proposal], for ongoing projects, and for any proposals currently under consideration from whatever source, irrespective of whether such support is provided through the proposing organization or is provided directly to the individual.

NIH: Other support includes all resources made available to a researcher in support of and/or related to all of their research endeavors, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value and regardless of whether they are based at the institution the researcher identifies for the current grant [application]. This includes resource and/or financial support from all foreign and domestic entities, including but not limited to, financial support for laboratory personnel, and provision of high-value materials that are not freely available (e.g., biologics, chemical, model systems, technology, etc.). Other support does not include training awards, prizes, or gifts. Other support is requested for all individuals designated in an application as senior/key personnel-those devoting measurable effort to a project. Information on Other Support is not specifically requested for Program Directors, training faculty, and other individuals involved in the oversight of training grants since applicable information is collected in other sections of a training grant application. It is also not requested for individuals categorized as Other Significant Contributors.

Northeastern University believes that global engagement, by continuing to expand our international campus network, bringing international scholars to any of our campuses, and encouraging our scholars to collaborate internationally, enriches the student experience and brings diverse knowledge and experiences that enhance our scholarship. However, consistent with federal agency guidance you should provide information to your federal funding agencies about all foreign collaborations and ensure that all foreign research visitors are screened through Research Compliance, confirming that there are no restrictions upon hosting such visitors. That said, there remains considerable concern regarding research security.

If you are involved in or are invited to participate in such a program, you should obtain guidance from your college’s associate dean for research, Research Compliance, see FAQ 9.

In most cases, there is no reason to disclose the participation of foreign students or postdocs on sponsored research, especially if all such work will be performed in the U.S. However, classified and export-controlled projects will be subject to foreign national restrictions. It may be possible to employ certain foreign nationals on controlled projects after appropriate licenses and/or exemptions are secured. Please contact Research Compliance for more information on such cases. There are no foreign national restrictions on “Fundamental Research” projects.

The Department of Energy is the only current exception to this standard, they require prior approval of all foreign national participation or access to DOE information, technologies or equipment, see DOE Order 143.A.

Finally, there may be cases where working with a student or postdoc might be considered a “foreign component,” if that student or postdoc is performing effort in a foreign country. NIH defines a foreign component as “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.”

We do not have specific guidance from all sponsors on this topic, however, per NIH guidelines, this person’s work on the project should be documented as follows:

  1. As “Other Support” because the externally funded individual is a “resource available in direct support of [your] research endeavors.” The NIH recently clarified that “all research resources including, but not limited to, foreign financial support, research or laboratory personnel, lab space, scientific materials, … must be reported.”
  2. As a “Participant” in the progress report if the person worked on a project for more than a month in any given year (see 6.4 Section D – Participants). Additionally, the person’s “primary affiliation” is determined by where the work was done for the project: if the individual is affiliated with a foreign organization but worked on the award solely in the U.S., the “primary affiliation” is not foreign; if work was performed while outside of the U.S., the primary affiliation should be noted as foreign.
  3. As a “Foreign Component” if the individual performed part of the work while in your Northeastern lab, but also made a significant contribution to the project a from his/her home institution, or any other foreign location (e.g. collecting data at a foreign site, running samples on instrumentation there, and/or will be a co-author on publications arising from the grant).

It is important to note that the federal government does not have a blanket prohibition in place with respect to extramurally-funded researchers participating in talent programs. However, many federal agencies are emphasizing the importance of clear disclosure. Depending on the program, faculty may be asked to limit or eliminate their participation in a specific grant.

Northeastern asks that all faculty notify their college dean should they wish to apply for or receive a talent award. The Dean’s office in coordination with Research Compliance will assess the risks and benefits of a specific faculty member’s participation in such a program.

DOE recently began to include two provisions in their award notices and contracts that will require additional follow up with the Office of Research Compliance.

As standard practice, NU-RES Administration will notify Research Compliance when these terms are included in a notice of award or contract. Research Compliance will reach out to the faculty to set up a discussion.

Ultimately, at this time, if the faculty member wishes to proceed, the University will be able to accommodate the DOE requirements, but coordination with the Office of Research Compliance will be required to document our assessments.

One or both of the following clauses will appear in your award notice from DOE (or via a subaward):

  1. Foreign National Access under DOE Order 142.3A, “Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program” states that DOE may request additional information on foreign nationals participating in the DOE project(s). Any foreign national that is from a country considered to be a State Sponsor of Terrorism is prohibited from participation until cleared by the DOE. It is not clear what information DOE may seek related to foreign national participants, but the University would be required to respond and provide the requested materials. Should you wish to include a foreign national on a project that includes this requirement, the Office of Research Compliance will reach out to you to develop a plan for compliance with this requirement.
  2. Export Control This clause defines export controls and reminds faculty that irrespective of the origin of any results or materials, if export control regulations require the institution to seek a license prior to export, then the recipient institution should do so. However, the clause also includes a section that states: “some of the results of the research conducted under this award may be restricted for proprietary reasons and not published or shared broadly within the scientific community”. Because this term implies that some of the results may be export-controlled, the Office of Research Compliance will reach out to you to develop a plan for compliance with this requirement.

We would like to thank the University of Virginia for allowing us to use their foreign influence FAQ page as a basis for this page.

Last Updated on November 30, 2020