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Non-Domestic Influence – Frequently Asked Questions

Undisclosed working relationships between scholars in U.S. institutions and non-domestic entities (e.g., universities, companies, and governments) have increasingly been of concern to American science agencies.  These FAQs include general information related to issues of non-domestic influence. For information specific to completing the Global Activities e-Disclosure (GAED) web-based form, please see the GAED FAQs or the Global Activities e-Disclosure job aid.  Disclosure requirements by agency, including examples of what must be included, can be found on the Current and Pending/Other Support Requirements by Sponsor webpage and a guide to common disclosures required for sponsored research can be found on the Resources for Faculty Disclosures page.  Additional information and resources related to emerging federal guidelines can be found on MSU's Emerging Federal Guidance on Outside Influence webpage.

 

Non-Domestic Influence – Frequently Asked Questions

(Adapted for MSU from guidance developed by the University of Maryland Division of Research)

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The U.S. Government’s main concerns include but are not limited to:

  • Failures to disclose:
    • Financial conflicts of interest
    • Conflicts of commitment
    • External employment arrangements
    • Financial support that overlaps with U.S. funding
    • Shadow laboratories or other parallel research activities
    • Participation in “talent programs” sponsored by non-domestic entities
  • Peer review violations
  • Theft or diversion of materials/confidential information and/or intellectual capital/property/attribution
  • Non-compliance with export-control laws and regulations
  • Failure to report non-domestic gifts and contracts to the Department of Education (i.e. Section 117 reporting)

 

Yes. The NIH has undertaken one of the most extensive efforts by a federal sponsor aimed at stemming non-disclosure violations by its supported researchers. This effort was initiated after the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General informed NIH that a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe uncovered unauthorized proposal sharing between an NIH reviewer and outside individuals, including researchers in other countries. The initial probe and related NIH review resulted in firings of undisclosed individuals across institutions and the repayment of grant funds.  On August 20, 2018, NIH sent a letter to the research community broadly stating the responsibilities to comply with NIH policies and US regulations and to responsibly disclose all non-domestic collaborations and relationships. As of September 2020, NIH has identified concerns regarding more than 203 scientists and has sent notices to over 92 academic and research institutions.

Since 2018, the National Science Foundation has recovered more than $5M through return of award funds when nondisclosure, false statements, or fraud were discovered.

It depends on the funding agency. The NIH has publicly disclosed that they are reviewing publications for additional collaborators or funding sources and then cross-referencing that information with what was disclosed in the NIH proposal. This information is then used for additional inquiries. NIH is not discouraging international collaborations or other sources of funding, but the Principal Investigator must be transparent with all required information at the time of the proposal. There are also reports of examples where the FBI is reporting information on participation in non-domestic government sponsored talent programs to the funding agencies.

Federal sponsors have become particularly concerned about participation in talent programs that are sponsored by non-domestic governments or entities. A non-domestic government sponsored talent program is an effort directly or indirectly organized, managed, or funded by a non-domestic government to recruit science and technology professionals or students (regardless of citizenship or national origin).


Although many countries sponsor talent recruitment programs that utilize legitimate means of attracting talent, some can be problematic and may encourage unethical and criminal behaviors. Contracts for participation in some programs, including some sponsored by the Chinese government, can include language that creates conflicts of commitment and/or conflicts of interest for researchers. Examples of problematic terms may include:
  • Requirements to attribute awards, patents, and projects to the non-domestic institution, even if conducted under U.S. funding
  • Requirements to recruit or train other talent recruitment program members, or to hire and mentor students from a specified country, circumventing merit-based processes
  • Requirements to replicate or transfer U.S.-funded work in another country
  • Requirements that impose secrecy on the researcher and ban them from disclosing their participation in the agreement or disclosing the findings of their research
  • Stringent restrictions on the termination of the contract

Please note that faculty are not authorized to sign contracts relating to University work or University resources. If you are presented with a contract involving MSU or your work at MSU, please work with your departmental administrator for routing and submission to the Office of Sponsored Programs.  If you are presented with a contract outside of your MSU appointment, please confirm you are following all institutional policies, such as, Outside Work for Pay, Dual Appointments, Financial Conflicts of Interest, and Intellectual Property.  Also, ensure sponsor regulations have been followed, such as, disclosing research activities, providing proper attribution, and following confidentiality requirements.

While participation in talent programs is not banned, any support from or involvement in such a program must be disclosed both to the University and to U.S. funding agencies for any active awards or within proposal submissions. Depending on the sponsor and proposed research, Key Personnel may be advised (or required) to terminate their affiliation with the talent program in order to receive an award.

As a result of these concerns, sponsors may implement additional conditions or restrictions on participation in non-domestic talent programs. For example:
  • NSF and NIH have suspended and terminated awards when the PI did not disclose their participation in a talent program.
  • Funding agencies may require a translated copy of the talent program agreement prior to making an award or releasing funding. Depending on the sponsor, this requirement may be applied more broadly to all non-domestic activities and resources.
  • Problematic talent program contractual requirements, as identified above, may deem the PI ineligible to receive U.S. Government funding.

Full and timely disclosure regarding research support and conflicts of interest is essential to the transparency the government requires and MSU expects.  Currently the University requires all faculty to:

  • Complete a Conflict of Interest disclosure at the time a new grant proposal is submitted, and at least annually
  • Complete the Outside Work for Pay disclosure and approval process, as required by policy
  • Fully and accurately complete all funding agency questions regarding any current and pending requests for financial support

Investigators and named Key Personnel must disclose any activities supported by non-domestic entities in federal grant applications and during awards.  Specific requirements can vary by agency.  For more information, please refer to the Current and Pending/Other Support Requirements by Sponsor webpage, the 1/13/21 letter from the Provost and VPRI, and the Office of Research and Innovation’s webpage on Emerging Federal Guidance on Outside Influence.

The following are suggestions that a researcher may consider if they have sensitive research data that requires additional protections:

  • Work with MSU Technologies to determine whether a non-disclosure agreement, material transfer agreement, data use agreement, or intellectual property agreement should be established.
  • Limit datasets and analysis to a need-to-know basis for all lab personnel.
  • Utilize secure data storage systems that limit who has download rights and logs all downloading of files.
  • Disclose inventions to MSU Technologies as soon as possible.
  • Avoid bringing your laptop or sensitive research data with you when traveling internationally.
  • Follow agency guidance for reviewers. Many agencies have policies in place to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the Peer Review process.
  • Follow guidelines for ethical Peer Review of journal articles.

For up-to-date information and contacts, we recommend you review the Office of General Counsel’s webpage on the topic:  Law enforcement request for records.  We are summarizing the most likely areas that could arise related to sponsored programs below and it is current as of November 2021:

  • Do not provide any personally identifiable information including addresses and phone numbers for students, faculty, or staff.  To do so without a court order could violate State or Federal law.  Please refer the agent to the Office of General Counsel if they request information on any University faculty, staff, students, or any visiting scholar or collaborator. 
  • If the agent presents a warrant, subpoena, court order, national security letter, or other legal document addressed to the University or that describes University property, immediately contact  the Office of General Counsel.
  • A search warrant can require immediate action (as opposed to a subpoena or other document that provides a date by which the University must comply). If you are served with a search warrant, upon you or your immediately available supervisor being satisfied that the officer is an authorized representative of the identified law enforcement agency, cooperate in providing the documents and/or things which are sought.  As soon as possible, you or your supervisor should inform an attorney in the Office of General Counsel regarding the matter.  If the search warrant is for University property, a University representative should be present during the search. The Office of General Counsel represents the University, including all faculty and staff acting within the scope of their employment.

If an agent presents a search warrant or other legal document addressed to you and describing your personal property, you are encouraged to contact your personal attorney.

Suspected unethical conduct can be reported to the Research Integrity Officer, or reports can be made anonymously to MSU’s Misconduct Hotline.

For suspected illegal conduct, please contact the MSU Police.

University Communications has sole responsibility for issuing official statements to media representing MSU and its units, and the University’s spokesperson and deputy spokesperson are uniquely authorized to speak on behalf of the institution.

While any employee is free to work with media on a story, we encourage those asked to provide comment beyond their areas of professional work, academic expertise or research and scholarly activity to contact University Communications at (517) 355-7505 or media@msu.edu for assistance.

The rules, policies, and regulations related to disclosure of non-domestic activities can be very complex and are subject to frequent changes.  Therefore, it is possible that you could inadvertently make a mistake. It is often the case that disclosing a mistake voluntarily and taking corrective action (as opposed to waiting for it to be discovered by others) can eliminate or reduce the severity of the consequences.  If you realize that you have made a mistake, please contact Brian Mattes or Laura Johnston.

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