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International Relationships and Activities

Introduction

The U.S. Government has expressed serious growing concerns regarding inappropriate influence by foreign entities over federally funded research. One issue that has moved to the forefront is the failure of federally funded researchers at U.S. institutions to disclose their relationships and activities with foreign institutions and funding agencies. Several Federal agencies have indicated that failure to disclose foreign relationships and activities may jeopardize eligibility for future funding.

It is critically important that the entire Drexel community demonstrate leadership not only in research, but also in our responsibility and accountability through compliance, trainings, risk assessments, and protocols for investigations with a clear understanding of what is at stake. Drexel is committed to helping our faculty, staff, and students have the greatest global impact possible while educating our community about protecting the integrity of our research. 

Drexel University encourages international collaborations, but it is important for our investigators to be transparent about their foreign relationships and activities. We have compiled the following information to provide guidance and resources to remind Drexel researchers of their compliance obligations to federal sponsors.

Federal sponsors have also expressed concerns about improper foreign influence in U.S. academic research. Examples of this include a letter sent by Francis Collins, director of the NIH, and letter from France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation both alerting the research community of “threats” from foreign entities on U.S. funded research.  Three areas of concern have emerged: 

  1. Diversion of intellectual property (IP) in grant applications or produced by federally funded research to other entities, including other countries; 
  2. Sharing of confidential information on grant applications peer reviewers with others, including foreign entities, or otherwise attempting to influence funding decisions; and 
  3. Failure by some researchers working at federally funded institutions in the U.S. to disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments, which threatens to distort decisions about the appropriate use of federal funds.

Rising Concern (Background)

  1. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a Notice on July 10, 2019, reminding research institutions that NIH-funded researchers must “report foreign activities through documentation of other support, foreign components, and financial conflict of interest to prevent scientific, budgetary, or commitment overlap” (NOT-OD-19-114). 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.” A FAQ can be found here.
  2. The National Defense Authorization Act, signed on August 2018, including Subtitle F – Reports and other matters stated that “The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with other appropriate government organizations, establish an initiative to work with academic institutions who perform defense research and engineering activities . . . to limit undue influence, including through foreign talent programs, by countries to exploit United States Technology ... ”
  3. On March 20, 2019 the Department of Defense issued a memoexplicitly outlining disclosure requirements for all key personnel listed on research and research-related educational activities supported by DoD grants and contracts.
  4. The National Science Foundation issued a Dear Colleague Letter on July 11, 2019, outlining its plans to “address emerging risks to the nation’s science and engineering enterprise.”
  5. The Department of Energy issued a directive dated June 7, 2019, mandating that “federal and contractor personnel fully disclose and, as necessary, terminate affiliations with foreign government-supported talent recruitment programs” on new DOE contracts and subcontracts. DOE is expected to issue a separate policy directive to implement the requirement on DOE grants and cooperative agreements.
  6. As a reminder, NASA has long-standing restrictions on using NASA funds to enter into agreements “to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company, at the prime recipient level or at any subrecipient level, whether the bilateral involvement is funded or performed under a no-exchange of funds arrangement” (grant restrictionscontract restrictions).

Drexel’s Commitment to Global Engagement

Drexel's global ties are integral to our mission, whether in educating international students here on campus, placing Drexel undergraduates in career-defining co-ops with companies, or creating new knowledge through research partnerships that span continents. That is why we will do everything possible to preserve these critical relationships, and to safeguard the students, faculty, and professional staff who are at the heart of what we do.

Federal agencies and policy makers have expressed concern that foreign entities may be trying to use academic research institutions to compromise national security and economic competitiveness. While we must remain alert and take steps to guard against any attempts to do us harm, we must balance those concerns with our commitment to academic freedom and the important role international students and scholars play at Drexel. 

The University’s global academic partnerships are vital to the research, discovery and innovation we do in a variety of sectors, including energy, healthcare, engineering and information technology. The knowledge gained from that pathbreaking research is a powerful economic engine, which can be applied toward solving some of society’s most difficult and persistent problems.

We will continue to welcome talented international students and scholars from around the globe, while also safeguarding our research enterprise, intellectual property, and academic freedom. Such openness and collaboration underscores why higher education in the United States remains the gold standard in helping to advance society. It is also why we must continue to welcome international students and scholars, while maintaining and enhancing our research partnerships.

Sincerely,
John Fry
President

Best Practices for Disclosing Foreign Relationships and Activities

While most international collaborations are perfectly acceptable and encouraged, we urge researchers to err on the side of transparency by disclosing collaborations with foreign or domestic entities in compliance with sponsor requirements in your proposals and reporting. These collaborations may includeexchanges of personnel, materials, or data, or other significant activity likely to result in co-authorship. Check your sponsor’s current disclosure requirements carefully: if in doubt, disclose. The items below contain guidance regarding the types of relationships and activities that Drexel University researchers are expected to disclose:

  1. Foreign components of federally funded research should be disclosed on proposals, progress reports, and final technical reports. Under the NIH Grants Policy Statement, a Foreign Component is defined 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"The definition of “foreign component” (which can be found here) may include a large number of collaborative activities, including “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.” Other sponsors have similar requirements to disclose foreign components.

There are multiple ways in which foreign components can be disclosed, e.g., 

  • Identifying a “foreign component” in an NIH grant application;
  • Listing a “non-U.S. performance site”;
  • Identifying foreign relationships and activities in a bio-sketch;
  • Checking “yes” to the question on the Cover Page Supplement Form asking, “Does this project involve activities outside of the United States or partnerships with international collaborators?”
  • Financial resources should be disclosed even if they relate to work that is performed outside of a researcher’s appointment period. For example, if a researcher with a 9-month appointment spends two months at a university outside of the U.S. during the summer conducting research under a foreign award, that activity should be disclosed.

Principal Investigators (PIs) should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all foreign components have been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact the Office of Research Compliance comp.awards@drexel.edu to have the error corrected.

  1. Drexel University researchers should ensure they disclose all applicable “Other Support” as required by federal sponsors. “Other Support” may include resources and/or financial support, domestic or foreign, available in support of a researcher’s research endeavors. Such support should be disclosed on an “Other Support” or “Current & Pending” form. Sponsor guidelines may specify that all sources of support be disclosed, regardless of whether they are awarded through Drexel University, through another institution, or provided directly to the researcher himself or herself. (NIH’s most recent guidance can be found at NOT-OD-19-114. An FAQ can be found here.)

Most federal sponsors will have their own guidance on how to complete “Other Support” forms. It is ultimately the responsibility of the individual researcher to ensure that the report of Other Support is complete and accurate to the best of his or her knowledge. Again, PIs should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all Other Support has been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact the Office of Research Compliance comp.awards@drexel.edu to have the error corrected.

  1. An issue that is garnering a great deal of scrutiny by the federal government is participation in foreign talent programs, such as China’s Thousand Talents Program. According to the contract policy for full-time faculty, Drexel’s faculty are expected to devote full-time effort on Drexel’s behalf. With that said participation in a foreign talent program should be disclosed to federal sponsors, Drexel University researchers should also reach out to their department head and Dean to discuss such activity, even if they’ve previously disclosed their participation to other university officials. Depending on an individual’s research portfolio, he or she may be advised to terminate his or her affiliation with the foreign talent program. Furthermore, according to the Department of Energy, A researcher who is participating in a foreign talent program may not at the same time receive support from a DOE grant or contract. A researcher wishing to seek DOE funding who is in such a talent program must remove his/her association with the talent program before receiving DOE funding.

Please see:

Additionally, Outside Business Activities may create the potential for or perceptions of a conflict of interest between the faculty's financial interests created by the Outside Business Activity and his/her related University research. In addition to any prior approval required by this Policy, such potential or perceived conflicts must be disclosed and properly managed or eliminated prior to engaging in the Outside Business Activity, in accordance withPolicy# CPO-2 Conflict of Interest and Commitment. 

  1. Significant financial interestsreceived from any foreign entity, including governments and universities, must be disclosed, per Drexel University Conflict of interest and Commitment policy for review by Drexel University’s Conflict of Interest Program. The definition of “significant financial interest” requires disclosure of remuneration from foreign entities greater than $5K including “Sponsored Travel” greater than $5K received in a 12-month period. .Additionally, if there is a financial conflict of Interest please disclose when related to your research in all public sharing of your Drexel University research results - presentations, publications or otherwise. Journals and professional organizations (where results are presented) have different, often broader standards for disclosure than the University. Review those standards for each relevant journal or organization. Remind your group members and coauthors to review those standards as well. If you are unsure whether a particular interest or remuneration meets this definition, please contact the Research Compliance Conflict of Interest Program at award@drexel.edu.

Foreign Travel Agencies and other entities that fund your work may require advance approval and/or disclosure of foreign travel or domestic travel sponsored by foreign entities. Check the requirements associated with your specific funding sources. When traveling to high risk countries, follow recommendations including the use of a clean devices to protect information.

Refer to the following websites for more information.

  1. Disclose all foreign consulting and other outside business activitiesas required in policy #CPO-2 Conflict of Interest and Commitment. The University has an established mechanism and process for reporting conflicts of interest and commitment. Governed by policy# CPO-2 Conflict of Interest and Commitment, all faculty and staff are required to report their conflicts of interest annually. In pursuit of executing its mission, Drexel encourages faculty to foster relationships with fellow academics, government agencies, private organizations and industry partners that work to commercialize innovations and new technologies that will benefit society. Most conflicts of interest created by academic-industry relationships are real, consequential, but tolerable, so long as they are disclosed and can be managed to contain their risks while preserving their benefits. A few common examples of outside business activities include consulting, teaching courses at outside organizations, or entrepreneurial ventures related to your area of research.

 

  1. Intellectual Property. Promptly report inventions or intellectual property to the Office of Applied Innovation. According to the intellectual property policy inventors are responsible of the inventors to disclose to Drexel all potentially patentable inventions conceived or first reduced to practice in whole or in part in the course of your University responsibilities or with more than incidental use of University resources. Remind your group members and collaborators to do the same.
  1. Peer Review. Never share information gained through peer review processes, whether reviewing grant applications or publications. This information is confidential. Declare all competing or conflicting interests when agreeing to serve as a reviewer. Check the requirements of the relevant agency or journal. If in doubt, disclose or ask.
  1. Equipment purchases. Nearly every item, material, or software (collectively, “products”) in the U.S. is subject to U.S. export controls. Products are listed either on the United States Munitions List(USML) or the Commerce Control List (CCL). If a product is listed on the USML, it is subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). They are federal regulations administered by the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls under the U.S. Department of State. The ITAR governs all military, weapons, and space related items and services. If a product is listed on the CCL, it is subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which are administered by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) under the Department of Commerce. Whenever possible the University prefers to rely on manufacturers to provide the export control status of items and software being obtained through a procurement activity. In cases where the vendor does not know the export control status of an item (e.g. when the vendor is not the manufacturer) or refuses to provide export control information to the University, export controls will perform a self-determination based on the available information.
  1. International contracts and agreements. Drexel is positioned to capitalize on and grow its international relationships and funding opportunities. Therefore, it is critical to conduct due diligence when establishing agreements; establish a common process for vetting all international research related gifts, memorandums, contracts, and grants to identify risks and risk mitigation strategies. Contact the Office of Research Compliance for an export control risk assessment. Research Compliance performs risk assessments for grants/contracts and other individual requests. Assessment include, but not limited to:
  • Determining if the educational or fundamental research exception is applicable;
  • Reviewing the material/technology EAR or ITAR classifications;
  • Assessing country interactions as sanctions vary by country and change often. Current heavily sanctioned countries include but are not limited to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan; and
  • Conducting individual screenings to ensure persons/entities have not been identified as a restricted party.
  1. Export Control Compliance. The university has an established export control compliance program. When collaborating with international partners, making financial transactions, shipping materials, transferring technology, traveling abroad, or using restricted materials for research, comply with US export control regulations. If you have questions about export control,consult the Export Control Handbook, contact the Export Control Office at export@drexel.edu.
  1. International scholars. The openness of Drexel campuses to international delegations, visitors, scholars and students is vitally important to our research enterprise. In order to mitigate the risk associated with international scholars, the Office of Research & Innovation’s export control program manages an international visiting scholar risk assessment, which is available to the Drexel community. Promoting international collaborations in research and education efforts on campus presents unique risks with respect to maintaining compliance with U.S. export control laws. As such, the Office of Research strongly recommends that prior to hosting an international scholar or during the application phase, each international visitor be reviewed to identify and manage any potential risks prior to the arrival on campus. To begin an Export Control Exchange Visitor Review, please access, complete and submit the Non-Immigrant Export Compliance Questionnaire. The Non-Immigrant Export Compliance Questionnaire responses will assist the Office of Research in assessing export risk. If properly identified, many risks can be mitigated through open dialog and collaboration between the Office of Research & Innovation, International Student Scholar Services (ISSS), the hosting department/college and the visitor. It is critically important that all scholars and visitors on campus have the appropriate authorizations, especially when Drexel is the sponsoring institution. For Drexel-sponsored students or scholars, all U.S. Immigration procedures should be coordinated through the International Student Scholar Services (ISSS)

Importance

Drexel is committed to fostering dynamic research collaborations and protecting principles of academic freedom, while also promoting transparency surrounding interactions with industry and foreign entities in order to protect our students, faculty, and staff, as well as the University. It protects everyone’s interests – the Federal government, Drexel University, individual researchers, and their international collaborators – to have international relationships disclosed and vetted to determine if there are any potential conflicts of commitment, duplications of research, and/or diversion of intellectual property in the performance of federally funded research.

In extreme cases, failure to disclose all relationships could result in the termination of funding for a project and potential ineligibility for future funding. Noncompliance can also threaten not only the funding for individual projects, but overall funding for the University and from federal appropriations as a whole.

How to disclose:

  1. If a faculty or professional staff member identifies an omission like participating in any foreign talent program, we strongly advise faculty to update their conflict of interest report through Drexel One by completing a “Interim COI Report” immediately. To access your Conflict of Interest report, log in to DrexelOne, navigate to the Employee tab, select “Conflict of Interest Disclosure” followed by selecting “Start an Interim COI Report”. Please email compliance@drexel.eduwith questions or requests for more information.
  2. Principal Investigators (PIs) should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all foreign components have been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact the Office of Research Compliance awards@drexel.edu to have the error corrected.

Education & Awareness

To aid in the protection of interest we offer training and awareness that centers on the need to safeguard our academic research and intellectual property from unauthorized use, theft or transfer. As such, I would like to remind you of our conflict of interest and export control online training modules offered through CITI Program. The training modules are available to all faculty, staff and students. We strongly encourage all research teams complete these modules. During CITI registration, you will be prompted to add a course. Select the courses required for your research. Additionally, with respect to protecting unauthorized access to our IP, it is important to also highlight the Office of Information Technology’s Phishing Awareness training class accessible through Career Pathways and leverage their published best practices in information security

How to Get Assistance

The Office of Research & Innovation and the Office of Compliance, Privacy and Internal Audit aims to work together and closely with Drexel colleges, schools, and departments to provide advice regarding appropriate action for scenarios and questions asked by Drexel community members.

Faculty members should be encouraged to contact their Dean and/or Department Head for an initial discussion regarding any foreign affiliations related to their research efforts. Questions regarding research related disclosures can be directed to Research Compliance at award.comp@drexel.edu and specific questions regarding export compliance can be directed to comp.exports@drexel.edu. Questions regarding your University COI Report, accessed through DrexelOne, can be directed to compliance@drexel.edu.

FAQ's

Do these issues only apply to NIH grants?

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.

Please see the Background section above for additional details

Do I need to make disclosures related to the work of my graduate students if they are foreign nationals? Does this affect Postdoctoral scholars?

In most cases, there is no reason to disclose 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 Drexel University’s Export Compliance Office for more information on such cases.

There are no foreign national restrictions on “Fundamental Research” projects (see Drexel University’s Export Control Handbook for a definition of “Fundamental Research”).

What is Drexel doing to address the issue? 

Drexel is working with the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), an association of research institutions, to provide feedback and suggest policy improvements and clarifications around this issue.

Among the suggestions made by the advisory committee to the NIH was to update policies and forms to make requirements more explicit and clarify when nondisclosure constitutes research misconduct. The Dec. 13, 2018 Report of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director can be found here: https://acd.od.nih.gov/documents/presentations/12132018ForeignInfluences.pdf

Can I add disclosures to current projects or proposals? 

Yes – If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact the Office of Research Compliance comp.awards@drexel.edu to have the error corrected.

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Sources

NIH/Senate Communications:

"Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components:" https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-19-114.html

March 30, 2018 Letter from NIH to research institutions regarding disclosure of foreign financial interests: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-18-160.html

Aug. 20, 2018 Letter from NIH to research institutions regarding increased disclosure: https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/NIH%20Foreign%20Influence%20Letter%20to%20Grantees%2008-20-18.pdf

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s letter to NIH, Oct. 24, 2018: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/chairman-grassley-seeks-transparency-nih-foreign-threats-research-grant-process

NIH response letter to Sen. Grassley, Dec. 21, 2018: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/sites/default/files/constituents/FR01%20WF%20376670%20Final%20Response.signed_0.pdf

Sen. Grassley’s response letter to NIH, Jan. 8, 2019: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/grassley-receives-response-nih-foreign-threats-research-grant-process

Senate Committee on Finance: "Grassley Probes Foreign Threats to Taxpayer-Funded Research at Defense Department," April 2, 2019: https://www.finance.senate.gov/chairmans-news/grassley-probes-foreign-th...

Senate Committee on Finance letter from Chuck Grassley to NSF Director France A. Córdova, April 15, 2019: https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2019-04-15%20CEG%20to%20NSF%20(research%20threats)1.pdf

Funding Agency Communications:

The National Science Foundation issued a statement on “Security and Science” dated October 23, 2018, stating that US universities must “embrace transparency and rigorously adhere to conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policies.” 

June 7, 2019 DOE Directive regarding Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs: https://www.directives.doe.gov/directives-documents/400-series/0486-1-bo...@@images/file 

Other Sources:

NIH presentation on Foreign Influences on Research Integrity (PDF): https://acd.od.nih.gov/documents/presentations/12132018ForeignInfluences...

NIH Definition of Foreign Component: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/glossary.htm#ForeignComponent

NIH Definition of Other Support: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms/othersupport.htm

NIH Application Instructions (Foreign Components mentioned on page 66): https://grants.nih.gov/grants/how-to-apply-application-guide/forms-e/general-forms-e.pdf

NIH Guidance on Investigator Disclosures of Foreign Financial Interest: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-18-160.html