Guidance from the Vice Chancellor for Research Regarding Concerns of Inappropriate Foreign Influence and University Research
Updated: August 20, 2019
This page provides guidance from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research on matters relating to foreign influence concerns, policy updates, and guidance provided by the NIH and other federal funding agencies. This page will be updated as information changes.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill strongly supports and encourages international collaboration and values our partnerships with universities and other organizations worldwide. To support continued collaborations, it is important that all faculty and staff members understand the concerns being raised and how we can partner together to address them. In this memorandum, I will provide you with information regarding the underlying issues and the tools and resources currently available at our university to enable your response to this information should you determine there is a need.
Through a variety of mechanisms, the U.S. Government has raised concerns about foreign threats to the integrity of research at national academic and research institutions. The concerns revolve around three main areas:
- Diversion of intellectual property to foreign entities
- Disclosing confidential grant application information by NIH peer reviewers to third parties
- Failure of researchers to disclose research resources and support provided by other organizations, including foreign entities
Some examples of recent communications regarding foreign threats include a reminder Guide Notice from the NIH issued on March 30, 2018 regarding investigator disclosures of foreign financial interests; a letter sent by NIH director, Francis Collins on August 20, 2018 alerting the research community to “threats” from foreign entities; a Department of Energy talent policy notification dated January 31, 2019 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;” a Department of Defense 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 second Department of Defense memo issued on March 20, 2019 regarding protection of Intellectual Property (IP), Controlled Information, Key Personnel and Critical Technologies that outlines new requirements to be included in all DoD Notices of Funding Opportunities; and the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision alluding to the restriction of federal funding to institutions doing business with certain Chinese telecommunications companies.
In keeping with the above examples, our federal funding agencies have advised that there will be a heightened focus on ensuring compliance with respect to mandatory reporting of all sources of research support, financial interests and relevant affiliations, as well as steps to reduce risk to IP security. All academic research institutions must have a heightened awareness and interest in understanding the relationships our federally-funded faculty may have with foreign governments or entities.
As UNC 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 and adhere to the following requirements, which are available in full on the Research Compliance Learning Community page:
- Export Controls
- Engaging visiting collaborators
- Proper security of material, data and confidential/proprietary information
- Intellectual property
- Peer review and sponsor-specific peer review resources
- Gifts and donations
What you should do right now if you are engaged in sponsored research activity:
1. Update other support
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. The NIH Other Support documentation should now include all resources, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value, available in direct support of an individual’s research endeavors. This includes grants and contracts received from any entity (direct and pass-through included, Federal and non-Federal), gifts directly used to subsidize expenses related to your NIH-funded project, start-up funds received from entities other than UNC Chapel Hill, domestic or international positions held by the individual, in-kind lab or office space, any visiting faculty, scholars, post-docs, or scientists supported from foreign resources who are participating in your NIH project, scientific materials received, and affiliations you have with foreign entities or governments, including talent programs (even if the affiliation is an honorary, visiting, or adjunct one). If you submitted a proposal or JIT response after the July 10, 2019 Notice Number NOT-OD-19-114 was released by NIH and you did not include the items mentioned above in your Other Support documentation, you should work with the Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) and/or Sponsored Programs Office (SPO; for SOM projects) to submit corrected documents to NIH. If you are unsure if you should include something in your Other Support when proposing a new project, consult with OSR or SPO as appropriate and/or include it in your Other Support to be fully transparent. For NSF current and pending support, include all sources of support and commitments of time, even if not receiving salary support.
2. Review and update biosketches
Biosketches should be current and thorough, review and update as necessary based on the information in this communication and the referenced resources, as well as the guidelines below:
- NIH: Biosketch Format, Instructions and Samples
- NSF: Current and Pending Support
- NSF: Biographical Sketch(es) – Synergistic Activities
- NSF: Collaborations and Other Affiliations
3. Ensure appropriate disclosure of foreign components
Any foreign component planned prior to the submission of a proposal should be included in the appropriate locations in that proposal. If you wish to add a foreign component to an already awarded project, it is imperative that you seek prior approval, directly from NIH via a formal request submitted by the Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) or Sponsored Programs Office (SPO) as appropriate, as a foreign component if NIH-funded work is performed in a foreign country or by foreign collaborators. Researchers must disclose as part of “Other Support” the involvement of visiting faculty, scholars or scientists supported from foreign sources who are participating in NIH-funded work here. Review your current projects in accordance with the following NIH definition:
The current NIH Grants Policy Statement defines “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 U.S. 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. (See Grants to Foreign Organizations, International Organizations, and Domestic Grants with Foreign Components chapter in IIB).
Please note that 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 SPO.
OSR and SPO staff can assist you in updating your current grants, if you determine there is a need to do so, please reach out to them accordingly for guidance and assistance.
4. As you work on progress reports,
always remember that you should indicate any change in support for Key Personnel that occurred over the last budget year. Be sure to include the new items noted above and defined in NIH NOT-OD-19-114. If you wish to make a change to your project that requires prior approval, the progress report is NOT the place to do that; prior to the report being submitted, a formal prior approval request should have been sent to NIH via your SPO or OSR office, as appropriate.
5. Review COI and EPAP disclosures and update as necessary.
6. Reach out to the export control officer
at email@example.com if you would like to review your research to ensure compliance with the export control regulations.
UNC is committed to maintaining an open and robust research environment while complying with applicable laws and regulations and protecting the integrity of your research as well as that of our research enterprise overall. We realize that these requirements are complex. For that reason, we have included resources and links to information to assist you in understanding and complying with these obligations. We also know that we can’t anticipate all of the questions this information will prompt. As you think of other information you need or questions as they arise, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NIH has posted FAQ questions regarding their requirements and will be updating it as questions come in. If you have any questions not addressed there, please reach out to the Office of Sponsored Research or Sponsored Programs Office as appropriate.
Thank you for the important work you do and for working with us to ensure compliance with these issues and concerns. The staff in the offices that support research are dedicated to working together with you to protect the integrity of your research and that of our collective research enterprise. Together, we will continue to advance scientific knowledge while being mindful of our emerging role in ensuring that we understand and comply with the national security landscape.