Foreign Influence and Involvement with ECU Research
June 25, 2019
I am writing to inform the campus community of a growing concern that has recently emerged among federal agencies regarding security threats and undue foreign influence on university campuses throughout the United States. In August 2018, the director of the National Institutes of Health published a letter that outlined these concerns. Since then, other federal agencies and professional organizations have raised similar concerns.
In response, the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) surveyed 40 research universities soliciting input on strategies, policies, practices and tools that are being used to effectively respond to increasing security threats that could undermine the integrity of their research enterprises. As a result, the APLU has made recommendations that may be viewed as first steps toward addressing such threats.
Specifically, these threats include the diversion of intellectual property to other entities or countries; the sharing of confidential information by NIH peer reviewers with other countries; and the failure of investigators at U.S. institutions conducting NIH-supported research to disclose substantial resources from foreign organizations or governments. Evidence indicates that some researchers have received sponsorship from foreign entities to fund shadow labs, performing the same research funded by the NIH, but not disclosed to the NIH. At the time of this writing, the NIH has made 16 grant-fraud referrals to the Office of Inspector General for researchers failing to disclose ties to foreign governments on grant applications.
While ECU values and welcomes international collaboration consistent with the spirit of academic freedom and collaborative science, we must also remain vigilant to current and emerging threats that may be surreptitiously embedded through such collaborations and take responsible steps to prevent undue foreign influence on our research enterprise. Prudent measures must be taken to safeguard unauthorized access to, and sharing of, confidential information, theft of intellectual property, and inappropriate use of resources.
Effective measures can only be achieved through an integrated institutional approach consisting of education, awareness and rigorous oversight, beginning with transparency in faculty and staff reporting of all foreign relationships. Quite simply, transparency is critical to protecting U.S. financial assets that support the research enterprise and the intellectual property that may be derived from research endeavors. The following outlines how ECU will approach this:
Full Disclosure of Relationships
- In proposals for funding, ensure a thorough and accurate accounting of any support for research received either directly or indirectly from additional sources, including foreign entities.
- Effective immediately, the annual conflict of interest (COI) disclosure will specifically require disclosing foreign collaborations and affiliations in all its many forms.
- In addition to the annual COI disclosure, the university has implemented an annual export controls disclosure requirement of all EHRA employees.
Export Controls Compliance
- When importing goods from, or exporting goods or services to, a foreign country, consult with the Office of Export Controls and Customs (OECC) for guidance. Export control laws are complex and failure to comply may result in significant penalties and or imprisonment.
- All foreign plans for international travel must be reviewed by OECC whether travel is for personal or business purposes. Several countries are on the federal embargoed countries list (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimea region of the Ukraine). Travel to and from these countries or territories should be disclosed to the OECC as soon as possible in advance of the anticipated activity to allow sufficient time for appropriate clearance to be obtained.
- Alert OECC when planning to take or ship any ECU-owned equipment to a foreign country.
- OECC will review all international visitors and foreign entities (e.g., vendors, contractors or universities) to ensure compliance with applicable federal restricted party lists.
Responsible data sharing and security
- The sharing of data with other institutions, foreign or otherwise, will only be done under an appropriate agreement that governs the use of those materials or data. Agreements may be in the form of a material transfer agreement (MTA), data use agreement (DUA) or nondisclosure agreement (NDA).
- All agreements must be reviewed and signed by institutional officials with appropriate delegated signature authority.
Vetting of visiting scientists
- ECU’s research program is enriched by the collaborative partnerships and contributions of visiting scientists. We will continue to welcome visiting scientists and international collaborations through an appropriate appointment process that includes restricted party screening. Individuals must be properly vetted and their access to ECU facilities and systems must be appropriate for the proposed work.
- Visitors with extended stays, or who do not have the appropriate background for the anticipated research activity, must be carefully evaluated. Any activity that raises concern should be brought to the attention of the appropriate dean’s office.
- ECU owns the intellectual property developed in the course of the research in which a visiting scientist participates. This is not a negotiable term and should be made clear as early as possible to avoid any misunderstandings. This term is critical to protect the intellectual property of ECU well beyond the scope of the research.
Protection of Intellectual property
- Promptly disclose any potential inventions or other intellectual property to the Office of Innovation and New Ventures to ensure that intellectual property is protected.
- Report inventions to sponsors as required.
- Investments, partnerships or sublicenses made with foreign entities when involved in faculty startups based on licensed technology from ECU, must be disclosed to the following ECU offices: the Office of Innovation and New Ventures, OECC and ORIC.
Confidentiality of Peer Review
- Maintain strict adherence to the confidentiality of the peer review process whether reviewing grant applications or publications.