What is Foreign Influence?

“Foreign influence” has not comprehensively been defined by the federal government. The government does have federal interest disclosure requirements that may be indicators of foreign influence. Depending on the federal agency involved, these disclosure requirements may include:

  • Foreign funding (sponsored research or foreign employment)
  • Unfunded (in-kind) resources including equipment or  lab space donations ("Shadow Labs") 
  • Unfunded services of visiting scholars, employees, and students
  • Participating in foreign government entity and foreign government talent recruitment programs
  • Foreign sponsored travel
  • Honoraria or stipend (e.g., for services such as presenting results at a conference, or proposal review)
  • Unfunded services (e.g., adjunct faculty positions, mentoring students, board memberships)
  • Other forms of support not identified here, refer to How to Get Assistance below

Foreign influence that threatens the integrity of the research enterprise in the United States is a growing concern for Virginia Tech and federal agencies. Despite this concern, Virginia Tech remains committed to its strategic plan to continue its growth as a comprehensive global land-grant university. Virginia Tech values and encourages international research, collaboration, and scholarship where global citizens engage with different ideas, beliefs, perspectives, experiences, identities, backgrounds and cultures. Virginia Tech is equally committed to meeting regulatory compliance in all areas of our education and research activities so that we are responsible stewards of public and private funding.

While external activities including foreign collaborations are encouraged, the integrity of the institution and its research depends on a high degree of transparency regarding relationships with outside entities. Of particular concern are those relationships of individual researchers with foreign governments and other foreign entities that are not disclosed to the institution or to the federal agencies that support work at Virginia Tech. Researchers are required to fully disclose receipt of substantial resources from other organizations (including foreign governments), financial conflicts of interest, and appointments at foreign institutions, as well as other support that may negatively impact their primary commitment to their role at Virginia Tech or funding decisions of a federal agency. Failure to disclose could result in loss of funding or, in extreme cases, termination of employment.

Recently, several departments and agencies of the United States Government have imposed new foreign interest reporting requirements, restrictions, or provided supplemental guidance related to personnel who participate in foreign talent programs, receive foreign government support (funded or unfunded), and also participate in U.S. Government contracts and other awards:

  • Department of Defense (DoD)
  • Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration (DoE/NNSA)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)

The requirements are far-reaching, and  other U.S. Government agencies have announced that they will also be issuing guidance or requirements in the near future (e.g., the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.).

This guidance has been prepared to provide resources to ensure that research and educational activities conducted abroad or involving foreign partners on campus are conducted in compliance with Virginia Tech  policies and procedures, and obligations to federal sponsors.

Any new requirements will be highlighted prominently on this website, in addition to being communicated to all research administrators. If you have any questions about these requirements, please contact the Virginia Tech Office of Export and Secure Research Compliance.

Current Federal Foreign Influence and Foreign Interest Disclosure-related Statutes, Orders, and Guidance

On March 20, 2019 the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment issued a  DoD Memorandum on the further implementation of Sec. 1286 of the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Initiative to support protection of national security academic researchers from undue influence and other security threats. The memorandum requires proposers for all research and research-related education non-procurement transactions to submit detailed information on other current and pending support for all “key personnel.” The information is to be included in a Senior/Key Person Profile included in all Funding Opportunity Notices (NFOs). The requirement was effective for Non-Federal Organizations (NFOs) 30 business days after issuance of the memorandum. The memo cites use of OMB R&R Form 4040-0001 (Senior/Key Person Profile). Instructions including the definition of “Senior/Key Person” may be found here. For research and research-related educational NFOs (post April 19, 2019), reporting Current and Pending support is not optional.

According to the memorandum, “this information will be used to support protection of intellectual property, controlled information, key personnel, and information about critical technologies relevant to national security. Additionally, this information will be used to limit undue influence, including foreign talent programs, by countries that desire to exploit United States' technology within the DoD research, science and technology, and innovation enterprise.” 

The Department of Energy (DoE), in its June 7, 2019 Order DOE 0-486.1 Department of Energy Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs, requires disclosure of Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs for certain foreign countries of risk by any applicable contract participant in a DoE Contract. The restrictions that follow can apply to any DoE- funded contract, subcontract, and federal flow through contract, including contract modifications. The requirements currently do not apply to Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and financial assistance agreements (e.g., grants, cooperative agreements).

Upon acceptance of a new DoE Contract, Virginia Tech must comply with the Order’s Contractor Requirements Document (CRD), which include the following:

  1. Virginia Tech must file reports with DoE on a quarterly basis stating whether it or any such employees or joint appointees are participants in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk, or whether Virginia Tech has a reasonable basis to report such employees or joint appointees as a participant in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk.
  2. Virginia Tech must notify the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence within 5 business days upon, at any time during the term of the contract, including options and extensions, learning that it or any of its employees, applicable subcontractor employees, or joint appointees are or are believed to be participants in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk.
  3. Upon filing quarterly reports in accordance with paragraph 1, or providing notifications in accordance with paragraph 2, Virginia Tech will be notified by the contracting officer whether, based on DOE review, it or any of its employees, applicable subcontractor employees or joint appointees, are participants in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk covered by this CRD. Following notification by the contracting officer, Virginia Tech must take appropriate action to ensure that, within 30 days of notification, neither it nor any such employees or joint appointees are participants in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk while performing work within the scope of the DOE/NNSA contract.
  4. Failure by Virginia Tech to reasonably ensure that neither it nor any of its employees participate in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk may result in DOE/NNSA exercising contractual remedies in accordance with federal regulations and the terms of the contract.
  5. Virginia Tech must flow this provision to R&D or Demonstration subcontracts at any tier where the subcontractor’s work within the scope of the DOE contract is performed on or at a DOE/NNSA site/facility or DOE/NNSA/contractor leased space. This provision does not apply to ministerial corporate resource support (e.g., HR, legal, travel personnel, timekeeping personnel, benefits, etc.).

      DoE Definitions

        Doe definitions for Contractor Employee, Foreign Country of Risk, Foreign Government Entity, and Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Program are contained in the DoE Order 486-1.

In its July 10, 2019 Notice NOT-OD-19-114 Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies  and accompanying FAQs related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reminded the community (including universities) that applicants and awardees must disclose all forms of research and other support and financial interests, including support coming from foreign governments or-other foreign entities.  Support can also include in-kind support such as foreign laboratory facilities (“Shadow Labs”), and other forms of unfunded support.

NIH can and does penalize institutions and researchers who do not disclose all forms of foreign financial interests.  In May and June of 2019, NIH referred 16 cases related to foreign influence of U.S.-funded research to the Office of Inspector General and contacted 160 research institutions about such concerns.  In proposals for NIH funding sent to the Virginia Tech Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP), faculty must be sure to disclose all foreign financial relationships with foreign governments, foreign government entities, and other foreign sources.

NIH Definitions:

Foreign Components: activities that include the existance of any "significant scientific element or segment of the project" outside of the United States, including but not limited to performance of work by a researcher in a foreign location employed or paid by a foreign organization, whether or not NIH grant funds are expended.

Other Support: includes but is not limited to "all current projects and activities that involve senior/key personnel, even if the support received is only in-kind (e.g. office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees). All research resources including, but not limited to, foreign financial support, research or laboratory personnel, lab space, scientific materials, selection to a foreign “talents” or similar-type program, or other foreign or domestic support ."

Shadow Lab: NIH has used but not defined the term "Shadow Lab".

On February 25, 2020, the National Science Foundation (NSF) revised Current and Pending Support (C&P) language in a Proposal & Award Policies and Procedures Guide (Current and Pending Support in the PPAG.   This new guidance will be effective June 2020.

 Current and Pending Support

Current and pending support information must be separately provided through use of an NSF-approved format, for each individual designated as senior personnel on the proposal.

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. Current and pending support also includes in-kind contributions (such as office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees, students).

 In-kind contributions not intended for use on the project/proposal being proposed also must be reported.

 Current and pending support information must be provided for 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 individual.

Facilities, Equipment, and Other Resources

Proposers should include an aggregated description of the internal and external resources (both physical and personnel) that the organization and its collaborators will provide to the project, should it be funded. Such information must be provided in this section, in lieu of other parts of the proposal (e.g., Budget Justification, Project Description). The description should be narrative in nature and must not include any quantifiable financial information.

Also, in a July 11, 2019 Dear Colleagues Letter, NSF provided the following guidance: it is NSF policy that university personnel subject to an Interdepartmental Personnel Agreement (IPA) with NSF cannot participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs.

 

Faculty and Staff Foreign Interest Disclosure Responsibilities

How and When to Disclose to Virginia Tech

Employees must fully disclose personal interests in accordance with Virginia Tech’s Individual Conflicts of Interest and Commitment Policy (No. 13010). Foreign interests and participation in foreign talent and government recruitment programs should be disclosed in the Online Disclosure and Management System.

Contact the Virginia Tech Research Conflict of Interest (COI) Program at COI@vt.edu if you have questions regarding disclosure requirements under this policy. 

Note that disclosing your interests in the Online Disclosure and Management System does not alleviate your obligation to notify OSP of any disclosure requirements to individual sponsors. Contact osp@vt.edu regarding questions on individual grant or contract disclosure requirements. 

 

How and When to Disclose to NIH

Use PHS 398/2590 other support form:

https://era.nih.gov/erahelp/commons/default.htm#cshid=1001

https://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms/othersupport.htm

File in the NIH ERA when “Just in Time” supplemental files are required.

File when changes to other support occur.

Failure to disclose can result in loss of certain government agencies funding as well as personal liability.

For more information, see the Virginia Tech FAQs, the NIH FAQs,  or contact osp@vt.edu  if you have questions regarding these disclosure requirements.

 

How and When to Disclose to NSF

Use guidance for Current and Pending Support for senior project personnel and Facilities, Equipment, and Other Support.

Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 20-1) (effective date June 2020)

File in Fastlane at proposal submission; use applicable NSF form (which does not exist yet); until there is a form, use current .pdf format. File when changes to Current and Pending Support or Facilities, Equipment and Other Support occur.

 

How and When to Disclose to DoD

In responses to any DoD Notices of Funding  Opportunities (NFO) after April 19, 2019, faculty are required to submit detailed information on other current and pending support for all “key personnel” for all DoD funded non-procurement research and research-related educational activities  (e.g., grants, cooperative agreements). This disclosure requirement includes foreign financial interests and participation in foreign talent and government recruitment programs. Employee information will be submitted using OMB R&R Form 4040-0001 (Senior/Key Person Profile). When required, proposers shall submit:

A list of all current projects being worked on, in addition to any future support the key person has applied to receive, regardless of the source;

    Title and objectives of the other research projects;

    Percentage per year to be devoted to the other projects;

    Total amount of support the key person is receiving in connection to each other research project or will receive if     other proposals are awarded;

    Names and address of the agencies and/or other parties supporting other research projects;

    Period of performance for other research projects.

This information will be used by the Department of Defense to limit undue foreign influence on "key personnel". 

For more information, see the FAQs or contact osp@vt.edu  to determine if this requirement is applicable to your DoD proposal, solicitation, or award.

 

How and When to Disclose to DoE

Virginia Tech must disclose  participation in Foreign Government Entity or Foreign Talent Recruitment Programs for certain sensitive countries (as determined by DoE)  by any participant (funded or unfunded) who is also participating in a DoE/ NNSA contract. The disclosure requirement can apply to any DoE-funded contract, subcontract, federal flow-through contract, and contract modification. Disclosure is required at contract award, and at any subsequent time at when applicable Virginia Tech contract employees participate in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk.

This disclosure requirement applies to any Virginia Tech contract employee or subcontractor employee or joint appointee from another institution performing work within the scope of such a DOE contract either on-site at the DOE/NNSA site/facility or in DOE/NNSA/contractor leased space.

Virginia Tech employees who are also foreign country of risk government employees or joint appointees, or participants in a foreign government talent recruitment program, cannot perform work within the scope of a DoE/NNSA contract. 

  • Virginia Tech has five (5) business days to disclose any such applicable Virginia Tech contract participants to DoE. Virginia Tech has  thirty (30) days to ensure that neither it nor any such employees or joint appointees are participants in a foreign government talent recruitment program and performing work within the scope of the DoE/NNSA contract.
  • Virginia Tech must  must file reports with DOE on a quarterly basis stating whether it or any such employees or joint appointees are participants in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk, or whether the contractor has a reasonable basis to report such employees or joint appointees as a participant in a foreign government talent recruitment program of a foreign country of risk.

Failure to disclose can result in loss of DoE/NNSA funding as well as personal liability.

For more information, see the FAQs or contact osp@vt.edu to determine if these disclosure and participant resrictions are applicable to your DoE contract.

FAQs

Foreign scholars and researchers (funded or unfunded) working on a federally sponsored project must be listed as Other Support.

For NSF and NIH proposal disclosures (remember you only provide the Current and Pending (C/P) Support for NIH at Just in Time submission and not at proposal submission) a percent effort that can be disclosed in the support disclosed on the Current and Pending Support form. An example would be if a visiting scholar is going to provide effort on the award, paid by the sponsor’s funds.

For DoD disclosures in response to Post-April 19, 2019 Notice of Financial Opportunities (NFOs) (grant and cooperative agreement proposals), visiting scholar and other foreign support can be reported in the OMB Form 4040-0001 RESEARCH & RELATED Senior/Key Person Profile (expanded) “Attach Current & Pending Support” file”.

For DoE solicitations and contracts referencing DoE Order O 486.1 Department of Energy Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs, disclosure is made in accordance with the Contract Requirements Document (CRD). Some flow down sponsors may provide their own terms and conditions, frequently in excess of what is required by DoE. These terms are reviewed and negotiated by OSP to terms compliant with the DoE Order O486.1 on a case by case basis with the prime contractor.

Foreign students on sponsored research do not need to be disclosed as individuals, especially if all such work will be performed in the U.S. They collectively can be disclosed on the Other Support form with “Virginia Tech anticipates [does not anticipate] using foreign postdoctoral candidates and/or students in any award resulting from this proposal.”

In some instances disclosure may be required. If the foreign student is considered a “Senior/Key Person” (DoD), or is a “sensitive country foreign government employees or joint appointees, or participant in a foreign government talent recruitment program” (DoE), disclosure is required.

Also, there may be cases in which working with a student might be considered working with a “foreign component,” if that student or postdoc is performing effort in a foreign country. NIH defines a foreign component as “any significant scientific element or segment of a project outside of the United States, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended." In such cases, disclosure is also required.

Any other resources (including cash or non-cash gifts, materials, reagents, equipment, direct paid travel, or items of value such as free sequencing, data access, tissues, etc.) that support your research program should be listed as Other Support. NSF disclosure can be made on the “Faculties, Equipment and Other resources” proposal section. For NIH, disclosure can be made on the PHS 398/2590 OTHER SUPPORT section of the proposal. For DoD, disclosure can be made on the OMB R&R Form 4040-0001 (Senior/Key Person Profile).

For DoE solicitations and contracts referencing DoE Order O 486.1 Department of Energy Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs, disclosure is made in accordance with the Contract Requirements Document (CRD). Some flow down sponsors may provide their own terms and conditions, frequently in excess of what is required by DoE. These terms are reviewed and negotiated by OSP to terms compliant with the DoE Order O486.1 on a case by case basis with the prime contractor.

Federal guidance is not clear regarding these activities needing to be disclosed as Other Support. Virginia Tech recommends disclosure of these activities to the federal government when foreign influence-related disclosure is required. If you have questions about whether to disclose or how to disclose an affiliation or activity, contact oesrc@vt.edu.

Yes – contact osp@vt.edu to have your application corrected. Remember, in the case of Department of Energy disclosures, a change regarding a participant’s sponsorship by a foreign entity or involvement in a Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Program must be reported to the agency or prime contractor within 5 business days.

No. Foreign influence that threatens the integrity of the research enterprise in the United States is a growing concern for federal agencies. Despite this concern, Virginia Tech remains committed to its strategic plan to continue its growth as a comprehensive global land-grant university.

Virginia Tech values and encourages international research, collaboration, and scholarship where global citizens engage with different ideas, beliefs, perspectives, experiences, identities, backgrounds and cultures. Virginia Tech is equally committed to meeting regulatory compliance in all areas of our education and research activities so that we are responsible stewards of public and private funding.

No. For many years, Virginia Tech—through the Office of Export and Secure Research Compliance (OESRC) and the Global Travel Oversight Committee (GTOC)—have provided country-specific guidance for Virginia Tech persons traveling abroad, focused on concerns regarding safety, security, and compliance obligations. The guidance has changed little with the recent foreign influence issues discussed herein.

Virginia Tech’s Office of the Provost,  Office of Vice President for Research and Innovation, and Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance established a working group to review Virginia Tech’s current policies and procedures, implement process improvements, and provide guidance to the Virginia Tech community on this rapidly evolving topic. As rules change at the federal level and new policies or processes are proposed at Virginia Tech, those updates will be posted on this site and shared broadly across campus.

Any affiliations or appointments (foreign or domestic) that involve a commitment of your time or intellectual energy 1) must be disclosed to the university in accordance with Virginia Tech Policy 13010 via the Online Disclosure and Management System and 2) require prior approval by your department and college. Further, for the purposes of completing sponsored program applications, such affiliations should be reported in the positions and honors section of your NIH biosketch or appointments section of your NSF biosketch.

Any affiliations or appointments (foreign or domestic) that involve a commitment of your time or intellectual energy 1) must be disclosed to the university in accordance with Virginia Tech Policy 13010 via the Online Disclosure and Management System and 2) require prior approval by your department and college. Additionally, the research funding must also be disclosed in the Other Support or Current and Pending section of proposals and annual reports.

Whether you need to correct an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal or progress report, or you have a new activity to report, please contact the Office of Sponsored Programs at osp@vt.edu.

Disclosing in this situation is necessary as it may have an impact on your sponsored research portfolio or how a sponsor may view your other commitments relative to performing work for them.  If you have additional questions or would like to discuss whether or not a specific situation should be disclosed in light of this guidance, please contact osp@vt.edu.

 

Yes. The DoD memo requests a list of all current projects that key personnel are working on, “whether or not the individuals’ efforts under the project are to be funded by the DoD”. We encourage PIs to be transparent in their disclosures, and include all projects funded by gifts, grants or contracts, as well as unfunded projects or collaborations that require disclosure on Conflict of Commitment reporting.

No. The March 20, 2019 memo only applies to new NFOs after April 19, 2019. Note that the memo only applies to research and research-related educational activities.

Case Studies

Harvard University, Boston University, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Case Studies

Harvard University Professor and Two Chinese Nationals Charged in Three Separate China Related Cases

Dr. Charles Lieber, 60, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, was arrested January 28, 2020 and charged by criminal complaint with one count of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement. 

  • Failed to disclose 9 month per year contractual commitment to Wuhan University of Technology (WUT)
  • Failed to disclose $200K per month in WUT pay and living expenses
  • Failed to disclose $1.5M in WUT lab construction expenses

Yanqing Ye, 29, a Chinese national, was charged in an indictment January 28, 2020 with one count each of visa fraud, making false statements, acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy.

  • Failed to disclose active duty PLA commission and relationship with National University of Defense Technology, an embargoed Chinese entity on a visa application
  • While studying at Boston University, accessed U.S. military websites, researched U.S. military projects and compiled information for the PLA on two U.S. scientists with expertise in robotics and computer science

Zaosong Zheng, 30, a Chinese national J-1 visa researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was arrested on Dec. 10, 2019, at Boston’s Logan International Airport and charged by criminal complaint with attempting to smuggle 21 vials of biological research to China.  On Jan. 21, 2020, Zheng was indicted on one count of smuggling goods from the United States and one count of making false, fictitious or fraudulent statements.  He has been detained since Dec. 30, 2019.

  •    Failed to disclose export of biological samples
  • Made false statements

University of Kansas Case Study

“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.”

  • Failed to disclose an employment contract  with Fuzhou University
  • Dr. Tao continued to receive federal research dollars without disclosing this relationship and certifying that he had no conflict of interest or commitment

How to Get Assistance:

Faculty members should be encouraged to contact their Associate Dean for Research for an initial discussion regarding any foreign affiliations related to their research efforts. Questions regarding individual grants and contracts can be directed to the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) and the Office of Export and Secure Research Compliance (OESRC).