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April 29, 2021

 

Sent on behalf of Mark H. Weichold, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President, and Mark A. Barteau, Vice President for Research

 

Members of the Texas A&M research community:

Texas A&M University supports academic freedom and the ability of researchers and scholars to communicate, exchange ideas, and collaborate with the brightest minds in the world to advance knowledge and the application of that knowledge to benefit the nation and the world.  There is growing concern among Federal agencies regarding certain agreements and activities between U.S.-based researchers and various foreign universities and institutions. The existence of such agreements and/or activities may have a negative impact on federal funding decisions for individual researchers. Of utmost concern are the cases where researchers are not disclosing these relationships and activities to their home institution or to U.S. federal sponsors of their work, potentially violating the requirements of either or both.

Funding agencies have made the following clear: investigators and their universities must completely disclose all foreign activities to their sponsors.

The term “foreign influence” has not been officially defined by the federal government. However, various government agencies have identified foreign activities that require disclosure. These include, but are not limited to, foreign funding of sponsored research; foreign employment; use of unfunded (in-kind) resources from foreign sources, including equipment, staff, or laboratory/office space; participation in foreign talent programs; foreign sponsored travel; and other funded or unfunded services such as accepting any titled academic, professional, or institutional position such as honorary, visiting, or adjunct faculty positions.

This guidance is a further reminder and update to previous messages about outside activity reporting requirements dated June 10, 2019, November 6, 2019, and November 12, 2020 from Dr. Carol A. Fierke, Provost and Executive Vice President, and Dr. Mark A. Barteau, Vice President for Research. Summarized below are reminders and updates regarding Texas A&M and Federal requirements to disclose certain activities. Additional details and formal requirements are available at the links below, and apply to activities conducted both during and outside an appointment period (including summer months). Adherence to these requirements is important to ensure continued access to federal and other research funding for Texas A&M researchers.

Complying with Texas A&M Policies and Rules

Complying with the University Financial Conflict of Interest Rule:

A Financial Conflict of Interest (FCOI) exists when there is a risk, or a perceived risk, that personal financial interests will unduly influence one’s actions. All University employees and students who are Investigators, as defined in The Texas A&M University System Regulation 15.01.03, must disclose Significant Financial Interests (SFI) and submit Financial Disclosure Statements to Texas A&M University’s Conflict of Interest (COI) Official in accordance with this rule and A&M System Regulation 15.01.03.

Complying with the University Conflict of Commitment SAP:

A Conflict of Commitment (COC) exists when a faculty or staff member’s external relationships or activities have the possibility (either in actuality or in appearance) of interfering or competing with Texas A&M’s educational, research, or service missions, or with that individual’s ability or willingness to perform the full range of duties and responsibilities associated with his or her position. It includes the performance of duties for an external entity substantially similar to or in competition with any portion of the individual’s employment responsibilities as described in the individual’s position description, letters of appointment, and workload assignments. Disclosures should be submitted directly to your unit head for approval prior to routing to the COI Official.

Complying with the Recently Updated External Employment Regulations Expanding the Scope of Activities Subject to Prior Approval and Requiring Export Controls Review of Consulting/Employment Involving a Foreign Entity:

A&M System Regulation 31.05.01 Faculty Consulting and/or External Professional Employment requires the disclosure and prior approval of faculty consulting and/or external professional employment.  In addition, the regulation was recently revised to require export controls review of any faculty consulting and/or external professional employment with a foreign entity. This review must be conducted by the member’s export controls office prior to submission of the request to the CEO or designee for review and approval.  It should be noted that the regulation also states that the provision of certain types of scholarly or research expertise to foreign entities without compensation constitutes faculty consulting and/or external professional employment for purposes of this regulation. These types include, but are not limited to, participation in scholarly or scientific research projects or publications required to be disclosed to any agency of the U.S. government, as well as communication of any information subject to export control, publication restriction or confidentiality agreement.

A&M System Regulation 31.05.02 External Employment requires the disclosure and prior approval of all external employment of employees other than faculty covered by A&M System Regulation 31.05.01 (listed above). In addition, the regulation was recently revised to require export control review for any proposed external employment with a foreign entity. The member will submit the proposed engagement for review to the member’s export control office prior to submission to the CEO or designee.

Federal Updates and Reminders:

  1. Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs

    Participation in foreign government talent recruitment programs (“FGTRPs”) often involves academic or research affiliations with foreign institutions, financial or other in-kind support for a U.S. researcher’s program, and commitments of time and resources from the U.S. researcher. Many federal sponsors have cited these FGTRPs as posing a particular threat to the U.S. research community. FGTRPs are required to be disclosed by federal sponsors, as well as by University and A&M System policies, rules, and procedures. In addition, activities similar to those described above but not labeled as a foreign talent recruitment program must be disclosed (i.e., affiliations or appointments at another institution, whether or not remuneration is received, and whether full-time, part-time, or voluntary—including adjunct, visiting, or honorary). Additional information about these programs can be found here.

  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH)

    On March 12, 2021, NIH released Guide Notice NOT-OD-21-073, “Upcoming Changes to the Biographical Sketch and Other Support Format Page for Due Dates on or after May 25, 2021” and associated Biosketch and Other Support FAQs. Significant items include:

    • a requirement to list all positions/scientific appointments (foreign and domestic) in Biosketches;

    • a requirement to provide translated copies of supporting documentation, which includes copies of contracts, grants or any other agreement specific to senior/key personnel foreign appointments and/or employment with a foreign institution for all foreign activities and resources that are reported in Other Support; and

    • a requirement for the recipient organization to notify NIH immediately upon the discovery that a PI or other Senior/Key personnel on an active NIH grant failed to disclose Other Support information outside of Just-in-Time or the RPPR.

    On April 28, 2021, NIH released Guide Notice NOT-OD-21-110 clarifying that the use of the updated format pages will be expected for applications and Research Performance Progress Reports (RPPR) submitted for due dates on or after May 25, 2021. During the transition to the new Biosketch format, NIH will not withdraw applications that include the previous Biosketch format. Beginning with applications submitted on or after January 25, 2022, failure to follow the appropriate Biosketch format may cause NIH to withdraw the application from consideration. The Notice also details NIH’s definition of Other Support, and 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. This includes resource and/or financial support from all foreign and domestic entities, including but not limited to, financial support for laboratory personnel, and provision of high-value materials that are not freely available (e.g., biologics, chemical, model systems, technology, etc.). NIH has a helpful chart that provides examples of what to disclose to NIH for senior/key personnel on awards and applications.

    To further reiterate NIH’s position on Other Support – NIH requires senior/key personnel to disclose all resources made available to them in support of or related to all of their research endeavors, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value and regardless of the performance site of the research. Even if the researcher performs the activity outside of the researcher’s University appointment period (e.g., a nine-month faculty member conducts the activity during the summer months) or at a location other than the University, the researcher must disclose the activity. A few examples of Other Support that would need to be disclosed are included below:

    • Domestic and foreign grants and contracts, whether provided through the researcher’s institution, another institution, or to the researcher directly;

    • Financial support for laboratory personnel (e.g., students, postdocs, or scholars working in a researcher’s lab at the researcher’s institution and who are supported by a foreign entity either through salary, stipend, or receipt of living or travel expenses);

    • Provision of lab space at another institution, foreign or domestic;

    • Provision of scientific materials that are not freely available for use at the University or another institution where the faculty is working (e.g., biologics, chemical, model systems, technology, equipment, etc.);

    • Travel expenses directly paid or reimbursed by an outside entity;

    • Living expenses directly paid or reimbursed by an outside entity; and

    • Other funding (e.g., salary, stipend, honoraria, etc.) paid to a University researcher by an outside entity.


    NIH has previously defined a foreign component (NOT-OD-19-114) as:

    • The existence of any “significant scientific element or segment of a project” outside of the United States, in other words:

      • Performance of work by a researcher or recipient in a foreign location, whether or not NIH grant funds are expended and/or

      • Performance of work by a researcher in a foreign location employed or paid for by a foreign organization, whether or not NIH grant funds are expended.

    • “Significant scientific element or segment of a project” includes, but is not limited to the following activities:

      • 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.

    * foreign travel for consultation is not considered a foreign component

  3. National Science Foundation (NSF)

    As a reminder, the new Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) 20-1 was released and became effective for proposals submitted or due, and awards made, on or after June 1, 2020.

    Effective October 5, 2020, NSF-approved formats are required for biographical sketch and current and pending support. Current and pending support includes all resources made available to an individual in support of and/or related to all of his/her research efforts, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value. NSF FAQs regarding current and pending support can be found here. In addition, NSF enhanced the Project Reporting System in Research.gov to implement the revised RPPR. It should be noted that if the PI does not complete their annual or final progress reports, any proposal for which they are listed as key personnel will not be reviewed until the reports are completed.

    Also, effective October 5, 2020, if an organization discovers that a principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on an active NSF award failed to disclose current support or in-kind contribution information as part of the proposal submission process, the institution must submit the information outlined in Article 38 within 30 calendar days of the identification of the undisclosed current support or in-kind contribution. NSF’s brief summary of their changes to the Research Terms and Conditions, including a summary of Article 38, may be found here.

    The NSF Inspector General reiterated in a recent security conference that current and pending support includes ALL research activities done by an investigator, whether or not through their home institution or whether or not it is related to the research the investigator is doing for their home institution.

  4. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

    DOE issued a revised order on its Unclassified Foreign National Access Program (DOE O 142.3B) on January 15, 2021. The Order requires DOE approval for foreign national access to DOE sites, information or technologies. The previous version of the order had included an exemption for institutions of higher education; however, this exemption is no longer included. When this Order is incorporated in the terms and conditions of a DOE sponsored award, the recipient organization must disclose and seek approval for foreign nationals to participate in activities funded by the award. The Export Control Office will assist with the submission of this information to DOE.

  5. U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)

    As a reminder, DOD released a letter on October 10, 2019 addressed to the academic community describing threats to our collaborative research environment by foreign governments and outlining steps taken by DOD and other federal agencies to protect the integrity of the research enterprise.  Specifically, DOD reiterates the need for research personnel to fully disclose conflicts of interest and commitment as follows: “all research and research-related educational activities conducted through DOD research grants, cooperative agreements, technology investment agreements, and other non-procurement transactions require key-personnel to disclose all current and pending projects, time commitments to other projects, and funding sources at the time of application.”

    Proposers must now submit the following information for all key personnel (in addition to the PI or Co-PI) whether or not the individual’s efforts under the project are to be funded by DOD:

    • A list of all current projects the individual is working on, in addition to any future support the individual has applied to receive, regardless of the source.

    • Title and objectives of the other research projects.

    • The percentage per year to be devoted to the other projects.

    • The total amount of support the individual is receiving in connection to each of the other research projects or will receive if other proposals are awarded.

    • Name and address of the agencies and/or other parties supporting the other research projects.

    • Period of performance for the other research projects.

  6. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    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.”  This prohibits Texas A&M from collaborating with or issuing a subaward to China or a Chinese-owned company as part of a NASA project (even if the activity is unfunded).  

Please contact the Division of Research with any questions at 979.862.6419 or coi@tamu.edu.