Research Resources

Foreign Influence on Research

FBI Counterintelligence Division PSA: Foreign Government-Sponsored Recruitment Plans, such as China's Talent Plans, Incentivize Economic Espionade and Theft of Trade Secrets (July 16, 2020)

 

What is Foreign Influence

The U.S. Government, including members of Congress and federal agencies, has expressed serious concerns regarding inappropriate influence by foreign entities, government, or individuals on U.S. institutions and researchers.  Key concerns of foreign influence are:

  • Inappropriate or inadvertent sharing of proprietary information, intellectual property, or data of grant applications, unpublished research, or technologies.

  • Sharing of confidential information by researchers serving as peer reviewers of grant applications.

  • Failure of researchers to disclose substantial support from outside activities or foreign organizations in grant applications Current & Pending forms.  Particularly, there are concerns regarding the failure to follow federal agency requirements to disclose foreign components or foreign collaborations in progress reports or ongoing awards. 

    • Foreign employment arrangements

    • Foreign grant support that may overlap or over-commit researchers

    • Significant foreign financial Conflicts of Interest 

Several federal agencies have indicated that failure to disclose foreign relationships and activities may jeopardize eligibility for future funding.

The concerns of foreign influence are often limited to the inappropriate and intentional actions of a few.  Foreign Influence concerns are mitigated by informing researchers of institutional and federal disclosure requirements and best practices to prevent inadvertent or premature sharing of sensitive research data to foreign entities. 

All employees should understand that Foreign Influence in research is an issue regarding the orchestrated actions of foreign governments and not about profiling any ethnicity or the activities of our employees. 

The following information provides guidance and resources to remind researchers of their disclosure requirements to federal agencies and the university.

Recognized benefits of foreign research collaborations

U.S. academic research institutions are open to people of all backgrounds and nations. This openness is not just a matter of principle, it has created a national competitive advantage by attracting talented people from around the world to the U.S. The benefits of this approach and underlying policies that have enabled it are powerfully demonstrated by the level of academic excellence in the U.S. and our standard of living.

UT Arlington strongly supports foreign collaborations for the benefits of student recruitment and talent, access to unique research facilities and programs, research funding opportunities, research dissemination, and publication opportunities.   Therefore, the intention of this guidance and disclosure information is not to prevent or limit foreign collaborations, rather it is for the purpose of awareness of concerns foreign influence presents and its mitigation by providing assistance to resources and the requirements for researcher transparency.

Targeted or Sensitive Research Areas of Foreign Influence

Research (data, technologies, or materials) can generally be categorized as follows:
  1. Open Research:  Research that is public or publishable without restriction (most common at universities).

  2. Research Intellectual Property:  Research that has high economic value or potential (e.g. Patent Applications or Know-how).  Publication may be delayed or withheld for commercialization purposes.  

  3. Controlled, Controlled Unclassified (CUI), or Sensitive Research:  Research that is not public, is governed under publication restrictions, or is not fundamental.   This includes data or technologies that may require a license under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), the International Traffic in Arm Regulations (ITAR) (research that may involve a military application) or that is deemed confidential under a non-disclosure agreement.  Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) is information provided by or deemed as CUI by a federal agency that must follow specific data or security standards. 

  4. Classified Research:  The University is not authorized to store or transfer research designated as Classified by the U.S. government. However, UTA Faculty may be authorized to conduct classified research at a secured facility.  UT Arlington does not possess any classified research.   

For all university research, researchers have a self-interest to be diligent in safeguarding and managing research data for its integrity and to prevent Intellectual Property theft (academic or commercial) or non-compliance to federal regulations whether  they are subject to or targeted by foreign influence or not.  

The FBI has identified the following technology areas as having priority to unwanted foreign influence:

Information technology Energy-efficient and new-energy automobiles
Computer numerical control machine tools and robotics Electric power equipment
Aerospace Equipment New and Advanced Materials
Marine engineering equipment and high-tech ships Biomedicine and high-performance medical instruments
Advanced rail transportation equipment Agricultural equipment

Within these technology areas and largely within STEM disciplines, the university has specific labs, federal agency programs, or technologies that contain Research Intellectual Property or Sensitive Research (defined above). 

Each of the categories of research above have increasing levels of controls available to help mitigate risks of inadvertent disclosure or theft from foreign influence such as Technology Control Plans (TCP) or Research Security Plans[FJA1]  (RSP).  Many of these controls are put in place through normal university business procedures within the offices of research administration, however, not all research conducted at the university is procedurally reviewed or processed through those offices.  Researchers should therefore consider these research categories and target areas in order to closely consider controls or safeguards they could utilize to protect their research data (see How to Safeguard Sensitive Research [FJA2] below).

Tools to Help Safeguard Intellectual Property and Sensitive Research

Information for proper electronic storage and transfer of research data and associated tools or platforms are available from the Information Security Office webpage.  For any questions, contact the Information Security Office at security@uta.edu

The Office of Regulatory Services can also help prepare a Research Security Plan or Technology Control Plan that document a set of security protocols for sensitive research.  RSPs are generally broad in scope and are intended to cover planned exchanges of research data or the conduct of research by specific persons or laboratories.  TCPs are specific to information or materials that are controlled under export control laws.  TCPs are more focused on protecting a specific item from access (physical or electronic) to prevent export control law violations (where a license may be required to access or export the controlled information).

Research Security Plan (RSP)

A Research Security Plan provides guidance and controls to researchers for sharing sensitive or controlled University information, such as unpublished intellectual property and research data.   The RSP is also specific and tailored for planned or potential exchanges of information or collaboration.  An RSP is not routinely prepared for all research or collaborative projects, they are used on an “as needed” basis which may be determined by university administration or researchers themselves.  This determination is based on elevated concerns or the perception of risk (of theft or foreign influence), to protect the PI and other computers/researchers on UTA’s network from inadvertent or intentional unauthorized access.

Tools to Help Safeguard Confidential Information

Awareness of Insider Threats

In addition to traditional cyber security methods, such as phishing or hacking research systems, the FBI and the Department of State have identified certain techniques that have been used to access sensitive research information or intellectual property from university researchers:

  • Sponsorship of foreign travel

  • Study abroad opportunities

  • Foreign conference or presentation opportunities

  • Talent recruitment programs

  • Gift or sponsored research funding

  • publishing opportunities

  • joint research opportunities

  • In-kind research lab access or research personnel

These techniques may open opportunities of unwanted foreign influence by the inadvertent sharing or theft of intellectual property.  This can occur by adversaries gaining access to university systems or research as a visiting scientist, student, or as lab personnel (Insider Threats), university researchers sharing of sensitive research data for collaboration or as requirements for gift/sponsored funding, or researchers unknowingly being subjected to cyber security theft when traveling abroad. 

Insider Threats are identified as individuals that have legitimate or illegitimate access to research data, systems, or research personnel.  The FBI has identified the following behaviors that may indicate someone as insider threat: 

  • Insistence on working in private

  • Volunteers to help on sensitive work

  • Unexplained or prolonged absences

  • Freely searches through the files of others

  • Requests for access that is not necessary

  • Attempts to gain information without a need to know

  • Failure to report oversea travel

  • Takes research data or material from lab without authorization

  • Violates security protocols

  • Awkwardly utilizes audio or visual recording devices

  • Maintaining data in unapproved or unmonitored systems.

  • Maintaining independent or non-sanctioned electronic communication systems for work or research related purposes

The Department of State has training available on Insider Threats.

The techniques and behaviors above are meant to bring awareness for how research or intellectual property theft may occur in order to assist researchers in their diligence to mitigate foreign influence.  These should not be considered as or used to create barriers to research collaborations and productivity.  If concerns arise surrounding foreign influence, researchers should contact the Office of Regulatory Services (regulatoryservices@uta.edu)

Federal agency actions related to Foreign Influence

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a Notice on March 30, 2018, reminding research institutions that PIs, sub-awardees and co-PIs must disclose all financial interests received from higher education or governmental institutions in countries outside the United States (NOT-OD-18-160).

  • NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins issued a memo to institutions on Aug. 20, 2018, stating that the failure to properly disclose foreign relationships threatened to distort decision-making about the use of NIH funds.* 

  • The National Defense Authorization Act, signed in August 2018, included Sec. 1286, which 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 State Technology ... ”*

  • On March 20, 2019 the Department of Defense issued a memo explicitly outlining disclosure requirements for all key personnel listed on research and research-related educational activities supported by DoD grants and contracts*. 

  • NSF’s July 11, 2019 Dear Colleague Letter: Research Protection describes the emerging risks to the nation’s research enterprise by the actions of other governments to obtain sensitive research information.  It also announces a new policy that NSF personnel and assignees under an IPA cannot participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs. 

  • 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.”* 

  • 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*.

  • 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)*.

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a paper  CHINA: The Risk to Academia that describes some of the Chinese government’s initiatives to conduct economic espionage in academia.  This paper provides resources for identifying specific target areas of foreign adversaries and useful tips and practices to assist researchers in identifying insider threats. 

*Courtesy Pennsylvania State University

Researcher Responsibilities for Disclosure and approval at UTA

There are numerous disclosure requirements that researchers must fulfill to the University and Federal Agencies that directly or indirectly help to mitigate foreign influence.  This includes disclosure for conflicts of interest and commitment, outside employment, use of institutional resources for an external entity, intellectual property etc.  Additional details are summarized as follows [detailed information below would be links to more detailed content]

Disclosure and Approval of Outside Activities / Conflict of Interest and Commitment:

  • Research Conflicts (COI) of Interest: Disclose to the Office of Regulatory Services (ORS) any significant financial interests related to your institutional responsibilities.  Review the definition of Significant Financial Interest (SFI) and disclosure requirements and ensure disclosure is made when anticipated or before actions are taken for creating a SFI.   For any Sponsored Projects or projects you disclose in Mentis, Research COI disclosures are recertified and confirmed for the research activities proposed.   Note that the UTA Compliance Office is responsible for assisting you with certain other Conflicts of Interest, Conflicts of Commitment and Outside Activities. See bullet below on outside professional activities and financial relationships for more details.

  • Outside Activities (Employment/Consulting), Conflict of Commitment, and Board Service: All full-time employees must electronically request and receive prior approval before engaging in an outside activity (i.e., outside employment and outside board services) and annually thereafter.  For all faculty, the permissible level of time commitment to an outside activity cannot exceed an average of 8 hours per week during the term of an appointment without the express approval of the President.  This policy includes criteria for disclosure and approval certain situations that may reasonably create a conflict of interest and may also include activities that are not compensated. 

    • Foreign Affiliations:  Faculty should disclose under this policy any activities that may create a perceived conflict of commitment of their university responsibilities with foreign entities/organizations.  In particular, any participation in foreign talent programs or honorary / position titles that may be perceived as employment of a foreign institution.  

Disclosure and Approval for Use of University Resources, Intellectual Property, and Acceptance of External funding

  • Sponsored Projects: Disclose to the Office of Grant & Contract Services (OGCS) all funded or potentially funded sponsored projects you plan to devote effort to or utilize any university resources towards (e.g. students, supplies, etc.) through UTA’s proposal system (Mentis).  In accordance with regents’ rules and university policy, only authorized officials may formally commit the university to perform work or services with an external organization.   Depending on certain options you select, the proposal system will automatically trigger notices to appropriate internal resources to help you with defining project scope and budget and addresses department-specific additional administrative and compliance requirements for disclosure and approval (e.g. space / facility commitment, human or animal subject research etc.). 

  • Gifts: Disclose to the Office of University Advancement, c/o Corporate and Foundation Relations any gift solicitation or gifts received including the names of the individuals and organizations that provided the gift in compliance with UTA requirements. The Office of Grant & Contract Services (OGCS) is also available to answer research gift questions.

  • Inventions and Intellectual Property (IP): Promptly disclose intellectual property and inventions to The Office of Innovation and Commercialization (OIC).  OIC is responsible for managing inventions created by all faculty, staff and student employees at UTA, and offers education, protection, marketing, and licensing about and of campus created inventions and intellectual property (patents, copyrights, know-how, etc.), including use of a secure web portal to receive invention disclosures from faculty, students and staff. Please note that sponsored research agreements typically require prompt reporting of inventions from sponsored activity, most commonly after reduction to practice. Remind your team members to report also.

Federal Agency Disclosure Requirements for Current, Pending, & Other Support

NIH DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS

NIH Notice (NOT-OD-19-114): Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components This notice and the accompanying FAQs for Other Support are a significant change in policy interpretation.  Faculty funded by or submitting to NIH must read this notice and FAQs closely to determine if additional disclosures should be made at JIT or in their next progress report.  Various professional organizations are actively communicating with NIH on the concerns and impact this notice will have.  We will share any developments that may arise, however, the notice is in effect and we must comply.  Below is a summary of the current policy: 

  • Foreign Components:  NIH requires investigators to disclose whether the project includes a “foreign component”. If it does, the application must include a foreign justification document and NIH must approve inclusion of the “foreign component” in the project.  NIH defines a foreign component as: The performance outside of the United States, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, of any significant scientific element or segment of a project, whether grant funds are expended outside the United States or not. Activities that meet this definition of “foreign component” include, but are not limited to,

    • the involvement of human subjects or animals,

    • extensive foreign travel by recipient project staff for the purpose of data  collection, surveying, sampling, and similar activities,

    • 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 of significance to NIH and should be disclosed 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.

NIH does not consider foreign travel for consultation to be a “foreign component”.

  • Requirements During the Award:

The Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) must include all persons who have worked on the project at least one-person month per year during the reporting period, regardless of the source of their compensation.  Investigators must indicate if such a person’s primary affiliation is with a foreign organization unless the individual is working on the award solely while in the United States.

 Adding a Foreign Component -
NIH requires prior approval to add a “foreign component” not included in the application and approved at time of award.

NSF DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS

NSF’s draft Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG – page II-23) contains revisions to Current and Pending Support (chapter II.C.2.h) and supporting NSF comments that clarify the expectation faculty should disclose outside or individual activities that may not be part of the work activities performed on behalf of their institution.  Although these clarifications are not in effect yet, faculty are encouraged to consider these statements carefully as to NSF’s intent for broader disclosure of activities in Current and Pending Support.  Here again professional organizations are seeking further clarity from NSF as the statements appear to be new interpretation that will change previous disclosure practices.  Excerpts of this draft are as follows: 

 

  • Page II-23 (h) Current and Pending Support (revisions emphasized):

 

Current and pending support information must be separately provided for each individual designated as senior personnel on the proposal through use of an NSF-approved format.  Information must be provided about all current and pending support, including this project, 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 individualAll projects and activities, current or proposed that require a time commitment from the individual must be reported, even if the support received is only in kind (such as office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees, students).  The total award amount for the entire award period covered (including indirect costs) must be provided, as well as the number of person-months (or partial person-months) per year to be devoted to the project by the senior personnel involved.

  • In addition, the following NSF comments were provided:

    • Information must be provided for all current and pending support irrespective of whether such support is provided through the proposing organization or directly to the individual.

    • Examples of current and pending support have been expanded to include non-profit organizations and consulting agreements.

    • All projects and activities that require a time commitment must be reported (no minimum has been established), even if the support received is only in-kind.

External Visitors and Collaborators

Misuse or Abuse by Visitors or Collaborators: Promptly alert your departmental leadership (e.g., chair, dean) if you believe a collaborator or visitor is misusing their access or relationship with UTA. Please be aware that, as with any UTA faculty researcher, staff or employed student, and regardless of funding source, best practices for information security require that an individual who does not have a business relevant reason to know something that is being protected, should not be given access to that information. Department and individual specific security training is available upon request.

To maintain control over your research data, visitors and collaborators must use sanctioned UTA IT services.  For email, digital information, and other UTA computer or server access, including UTA licensed third party cloud storage, contact UTA’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) at helpdesk@uta.edu or https://www.uta.edu/oitSupervising Visits: Provide appropriate supervision for all visits and visiting scholars that you host to ensure they are upholding UTA policy and are appropriately using UTA resources. UTA hosts visiting scholars from a wide variety of countries. Prior to arrival, the Office of International Education (OIE) assists and works with international visiting scholars to obtain the appropriate visas for their time at UTA.  Contact OIE, and specifically the Responsible Officer and/or the Alternate Responsible Officers, for additional specific guidance for prospective visiting J-1 scholar financial, insurance and other resources, requirements and fees. Form DS-2019 guidance found here

Foreign Travel Guidance

  • For any travel conducted based on your role, title, or work at UTA, a travel authorization (TA) should be completed to document the trip.  This helps to document the trip as being business related and in doing so can provide insurance coverage.  This is particularly important to capture when an outside entity is covering the cost of travel through UTA or directly to you.   If you receive direct reimbursement for travel, and that reimbursement exceeds your expenses, you may need to report outside consulting / compensation and it may constitute as reportable income for personal tax purposes. 

  • Follow applicable guidelines for travel to any foreign (international) location. UTA’s policy on international travel is available here. From time to time, situations arise that make certain locations more or less high-risk, including restricted regions. Be sure to consult UTA’s Business Affairs travel page as you plan your trip and before you leave for current information. The US Government also periodically issues travel advisories and alerts.

  • Cybersecurity is of critical importance when traveling internationally. For information on data security while traveling, review the Department of Homeland Security’s “Cybersecurity While Traveling Tip Sheet” and the Center for Internet Security’s “Cybersecurity While Traveling”.

  • Do not take or ship ahead anything that is controlled for export without a license unless it is covered by a license exception (email Office of Regulatory Services for assistance). If you are presenting or discussing research, only provide information that is either already published or has no restrictions on publication.

  • Regulatory Services can perform routine checks and clearances for foreign entities and individuals as required in part by our funding rules and regulations, and applicable legal requirements of the US federal government, to help protect UTA institutionally, and faculty travelling, from inadvertent violations of export control laws and regulations. Please email ORS for assistance.

  • Please be aware that, as with any UTA faculty researcher, staff or employed student, and regardless of funding source or location of the person with whom you are disclosing information, best practices for information security require that an individual who does not have a business relevant reason to know something that is being protected, or should protect information, should not be given unrestricted access to disclosed information. This includes that, from time to time, confidentiality may be needed in your collaboration with any entity or individual, and of course not limited to foreign travel or collaboration. UTA has posted general guidance on confidentiality (NDAs) here.



Research Administration
202 E. Border Street, Suite 216 • Box 19145 • Arlington, TX 76019-0145