Foreign Influence

The U.S. Government and federal sponsors, such as NIH and NSF, have expressed concerns about improper foreign influence in U.S. academic research. NIH Director, Francis Collins, sent a letter in 2018 alerting the research community to “threats” from foreign entities. NSF Director, France Cordova, sent a letter in 2019 and the National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision alluding to the restriction of federal funding to institutions doing business with certain Chinese telecommunication companies. Other federal sponsors are also calling for transparency regarding foreign influence. The DOD has expressed concerns and issued a letter in 2019 that calls upon the academic community to develop and implement best practices to protect American innovation while maintaining the free and open exchange of ideas.

Other areas of concern revolve around the active recruitment of foreign scholars into ‘foreign talent programs,’ and this issue has been discussed at length by the U.S. Government and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Foreign talent programs, many times run by governments overseas, typically recruit scholars in an attempt to influence foreign nationals to misappropriate intellectual property and federally funded research results from the U.S. research institution. One of China’s top foreign talent recruitment program is China’s “Thousand Talents Plan.”

Based on the concerns of the U.S. Government and our sponsors, U.S. institutions have a heightened awareness and interest in understanding the relationships federally-funded faculty may have with a foreign government or entity. To ensure compliance with federal regulations, any/all foreign involvement, whether paid or unpaid, must be disclosed to federal sponsors, following their regulations, and through Downstate’s conflict of interest disclosures.

Please note that Visiting Scholars, Volunteers and/or Students are considered in-kind contributions if they are working on your research project and must be disclosed. 

Remuneration is not a factor when it comes to Foreign Influence.

SUNY Statement on Foreign DIsclosure and Export Controls

Please review the federal policies below and ensure your submission follows the regulations governing foreign influence.


NIH Instructions and Guidance 

A memo from NIH Director, Francis Collins: Statement on Protecting the Integrity of U.S. Biomedical Research

NOT-OD-19-114: Reminder to investigators about the need to report foreign and domestic activities relevant to their sponsored research through documentation of other support, foreign components and adherence to financial conflict of interest reporting. NIH requires this information to prevent scientific, budgetary or overlap of commitment to ensure proper oversight of financial conflicts of interest before NIH funds are spent. Also see Downstate’s FCOI policy.

Other Support and Foreign Components: NIH FAQs

NIH Biosketch Instructions:

Competitive Application: Refer to Section B of the Biosketch Format Pages, Instructions and Samples

RPPR: Refer to pages 84 and 86 of the RPPR Instruction Guide

During the life of the project (between the issuance of a NOA and the next RPPR): No action unless a change of PI and/or other senior key personnel identified in the NOA

Other Support Instructions:

Competitive Application: Refer to the Just-in-Time Procedures in the NIH Grants Policy Statement (NIHGPS)

RPPR: Refer to page 86, Section D.2.c. ‘Changes in Other Support’ in the RPPR Instruction Guide

Foreign Component (work to be performed outside of the U.S.)

Competitive Application: Refer to page R-39, Q6 in the Research Instructions for NIH and Other PHS Agencies

RPPR: See page 99,  G.9, Foreign Component in the RPPR Instruction Guide

During the life of the project (between the issuance of a NOA and the next RPPR): Prior approval is required to ADD a foreign component, Refer to, ‘Add Foreign Component’ in the NIH Grants Policy Statement (NIHGPS). Prior approval is required to change a performance site within a foreign country or to add a performance site in a new country. Refer to Section 16.7.2, ‘Change in Scope’ in the NIH Grants Policy Statement (NIHGPS)


NSF Instructions and Guidance

A memo from NSF Director, France Cordova, July 2019; NSF Memorandum 19-20: Research Protections

NSF Biosketch Instructions:

Competitive Applications: Refer to Section F ‘Biosketch’ in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedure Guide (NSF PAPPG) and Section H ‘Current and Pending Support,’ and Section I ‘Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources.’

RPPR: Refer to RPPR Screenshots and Instructions


DOD Guidance

A memo from Michael Griffin, March 2019: Actions for the Protection of Intellectual Property, Controlled Information, Key Personnel and Critical Technologies

Letter from Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to the DOD: Foreign Threats to Taxpayer-Funded Research at Defense Department

DOD response to Grassley inquiry, 2019


DOE Guidance

DOE Order No. O 486-1: Department of Energy Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs


In the Press

Foreign Influence on Science has DOJ Flexing False Claims Act (Bloomberg Law); December, 2019

A settlement over undisclosed Chinese payments to NIH-funded scientists indicates U.S. authorities are willing to use the muscle of the False Claims Act to clamp down on foreign threats to taxpayer-funded innovation.

U.S. takes aim at Foreign Influence (Science); December, 2019

Two panels have been created by Congress to address this topic.

Van Andel Institute to pay $5.5M for not disclosing Chinese grants (Crains); December 2020

The Van Andel Research Institute was accused of failing to disclose Chinese government grants to two of its researchers and have reached a $5.5 million settlement, the Justice Department announced.

Moffitt turmoil began with national concern over China, stolen research (Tampa Bay Times); December, 2020

Feds say they are just beginning to understand the scope of foreign involvement in U.S. based research, at Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center and beyond. 

China tells government offices to remove all foreign computer equipment (The Guardian); December, 2019

China has ordered all foreign computer equipment and software be removed from government offices and public institutions within three years, the Financial Times reports.

Colleges, officials try to thaw effects of the U.S.-China chill (The Christian Science Monitor); November, 2019

Although the Trump administration has emphasized that Chinese students enrich U.S. universities, the trade war and other tensions may trickle down to campuses.

U.S. Struggles to Stem Chinese Efforts to Recruit Scientists (The Wall Street Journal); November 2019

National security officials say universities are at the leading edge of a plan by Beijing to illicitly gain scientific expertise.  

The Science Security Threat (Inside Higher Ed); November 2019

At a gathering of university research officers, federal agency officials document foreign governments' efforts to persuade scientists to engage in academic espionage.

Study Quantifies Benefits of U.S.-China Scientific Collaboration (Inside Higher Ed); November 2019

Without collaboration from co-authors from China, the number of scholarly articles published by American academics in science and engineering fields would have declined by 2.03 percent between 2014 and 2018.

Trump Officials Battle Over Plan to Keep Technology out of Chinese Hands (New York Times); October, 2019

The Trump administration is divided over how aggressively to restrict China’s access to United States technology as it looks for ways to protect national security without undercutting American industry.

U.S. Researchers on Front Line of Battle Against Chinese Theft (Associated Press); October 2019

The FBI inspects how universities are taking steps to protect research and monitor suspicious behavior.

NIH Reveals its Formula for Tracking Foreign Influence (Science); October, 2019

NIH has concluded that the Chinese government uses talent recruitment programs to obtain confidential NIH grant applications and to establish so-called shadow labs in China, where NIH-funded research can be replicated. 

NIH could do more to address foreign threats, reports say (STAT News); September 2019

The National Institutes of Health should do more to ensure that investigators and grant reviewers aren't susceptible to foreign influence, according to a trio of reports from the Health and Human Services inspector general.

How a Chicago college student ended up in the middle of an FBI Investigation into Chinese spying (Chicago Tribune); September, 2019

Federal authorities allege that an international student from Illinois Institute of Technology was secretly working for a Chinese spy agency.

Grassley presses Influential Universities on Academic Freedom Concerns (Senate Committee on Finance); September, 2019

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent letters to the presidents of some universities seeking information on the current culture of academic freedom on their campuses. In addition, he expressed his concerns in an op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal.

Amid Tensions with China, U.S. emphasizes rules around research security (Chemical & Engineering News); September 2019

Scientists worry security concerns will taint valuable research collaborations.

U.S. Academics, make sure you know the rules about foreign funding and affiliations (Science); September, 2019

Openness, intellectual freedom, and international collaboration are traditional hallmarks of university science in the United States. Recently, federal funding and law enforcement agencies—as well as universities themselves—have been taking steps to protect U.S. research and technology from foreign threats.

U.S. Border Agents are Seeking Social Media Data on International Students (The Chronicle); September 2019

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to collect social-media handles of travelers, including students, to the United States. In a notice of a proposed rule published in the Federal Register, the department says such information is needed to validate applicants’ identity and to determine whether they pose a law-enforcement or national-security risk.

Peer Pressure: 60 science groups call for end to Washington’s crackdown on foreign-born researchers (South China Morning Post); September 2019

A letter to Trump administration officials address campaign that has targeted Chinese scientists in the U.S. The organizations acknowledge national security concerns but seek a ‘balanced approach that enables continued scientific collaborations.’

U.S. charges Chinese professor in latest shot at Huawei (CNBC); September 2019

U.S. prosecutors have charged a Chinese professor with fraud for allegedly taking technology from a California company to benefit an unidentified Chinese telecommunications conglomerate, which sources say is Huawei.

Balancing National Security and Scientific Collaboration (Inside Higher Ed); September 2019

Over 60 science, engineering and education organizations sent a letter to U.S. science agencies requesting that they consider scientific enterprise when dealing with national security concerns. 

DHS Agency Information Collection Activities: Generic Clearance for the Collection of Social Media Information on Immigration and Foreign Travel forms – Comments due 11/4 (Office of the Federal Register); September 2019

Next Up in China Trade War: Biotech Purge? (Forbes); September 2019

Are biotech companies really that frightened of China? And if China feels its investments in the sector are threatened by Washington, could they retaliate by making it even harder for American firms to do business there? 

Universities Face Federal Crackdown over Foreign Financial Influence (NY Times); August, 2019

The Education Department has begun cracking down on universities that fail to disclose donations and contracts from foreign governments, hoping to give far more scrutiny to funding that has washed into the United States’ higher education institutions from countries often at odds with American policies but eager to tap the country’s brightest minds. 

Nine Chinese ASU students detained at LA airport, denied admission to the U.S. (AZ Central); August, 2019

Nine Chinese students who were returning to the U.S. to continue their studies were detained by Customs and Border Protection officials and sent back to China. 

How China uses LinkedIn to Recruit Spies Abroad (NY Times); August, 2019

Western intelligence officials say Chinese agents are contacting thousands of foreign citizens using LinkedIn, including former government officials.

After Blacklisting, U.S. receives 1300+ license requests to sell to Huawei (Reuters), August, 2019

The U.S. Department of Commerce has received more than 130 applications from companies for licenses to sell U.S. goods to China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, three sources said, nearly two months after President Donald Trump said some sales would be allowed.

Professor Indicted for Alleged Undisclosed Chinese Links (Inside Higher Ed); August, 2019

Kansas professor faces federal fraud charges for allegedly failing to disclose a full-time appointment at a Chinese university held while receiving government research grants. The indictment comes amid rising tension over Chinese scholars and security.