Foreign Influence Resources

Background and Context

Members of Congress and federal agencies have recently raised concerns over whether foreign entities may be attempting to take advantage of the open nature of the research-and-development environment at U.S. universities. In August 2018, Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), issued a “Foreign Influence Letter to Grantees (PDF)” that reminded the research community of the need to “disclose all forms of other support and financial interests, including support coming from foreign governments or other foreign entities… in accordance with the NIH Grants Policy Statement, [on] all applications and progress reports.” As Dr. Collins’ statement makes clear, transparency in this area is essential.

The National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and other federal agencies have expressed increasing concern of participation of academic researchers in foreign talent programs. They also have raised concerns about theft of intellectual property, breaches of scientific integrity, and other forms of foreign interference at U.S. universities. This interest in the compliance of U.S. Universities and their researchers has only increased throughout 2020 given the increased collaborations in the virtual environment.

SDSU is committed to maintaining an open and robust research environment while complying with applicable laws and regulations and protecting important research. It is important that all faculty and staff understand the concerns being raised and how we can partner together to address them.

1. Be Transparent

  • Be thorough and complete in disclosures to sponsors. Check your sponsor’s current disclosure requirements carefully, including disclosure requirements related to foreign travel and collaborations involving foreign sites. If in doubt, disclose to the sponsor.
  • You should review and update, when necessary, supporting documentation. Review/update bio-sketches; bio-sketches should be current and thorough. Disclose or update all research related significant financial interests. Progress reports must indicate any change in support for all key personnel that occurred over the period covered by the report.
  • Federal agencies have reported failure by some researchers to disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments, which threatens to distort decisions about appropriate use of federal funding.
  • Disclose all professional activities and financial relationships, whether compensated or uncompensated, including the provision by other entities of office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees, students, and visiting scholars. Disclosures must include all work for, or financial interests received from a foreign institution of higher education or the government or quasi-government organization of another country.

2. Comply with Export Controls

  • Export control laws and regulations are complex and subject to frequent change. Individuals who are traveling internationally and attending conferences; participating in international collaborations; using proprietary information; working with international staff or students; hosting international visitors; shipping or carrying items or materials internationally; or engaging in international transactions must comply with export control requirements. Additional information is available at SDSU Export Control Guidance.
  • Follow SDSU processes when hosting visiting scholars. Be sure individuals are properly vetted, and that their access to space and systems is appropriate for the proposed work. Be diligent in evaluating the nature of any visiting collaborators: visitors with extended stays, or who do not have the appropriate background for the anticipated research activity must be carefully scrutinized. For more information, visit the Prospective Scholars.

3. Disclose Intellectual Property (IP) and Take Steps to Protect IP, Data, and Materials

  • Promptly disclose intellectual property to the Technology Transfer Office.
  • Depending on the nature of the research, formal agreements may be necessary when sharing materials or data with other institutions, foreign or otherwise. Examples of such agreements include material transfer agreements (MTA), data use agreements (DUA) and nondisclosure agreements (NDA) to govern use of those materials, data or information. Having an agreement in place also affords the University the ability to complete all required internal controls and checks.
  • Secure your IP both physically and digitally - Ensure that physical, technical, and administrative controls are established to reduce the risk of data misappropriation, unauthorized access, copying or transfer. Consult with the Information Technology Security Office for a risk assessment.
  • Review and implement the SDSU Information Technology Security Office (ITSO) best practices for protecting you and your research while operating online in a digitally connected world by visiting the ITSO website
  • Exclusive licenses to federally funded inventions generally come with the requirement that the licensed invention will be manufactured substantially in the United States. In order for this requirement to be removed, a waiver must first be granted by the sponsoring agency. Contact the SDSU Technology Transfer Office for more information.

4. Maintain Confidentiality in the Peer Review Process

  • When serving on NIH, NSF or other federal agency scientific peer review panels, note and comply with all requirements to maintain the confidentiality of the information in research grant applications. Never share information gained through peer review processes—whether reviewing grant applications or publications. This information is considered confidential.
  • Federal agencies have noted incidents of sharing of confidential information on grant applications with others, including foreign entities that may have been attempting to influence funding decisions.

Links to Useful Resources

Links to Background Information