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Foreign Influence in Federally Sponsored Research – Guidance

What is Foreign Influence?

Government agencies have identified foreign interests and activities that require disclosure to federal agencies when proposing to or participating in federally sponsored research. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) provided guidance regarding government-wide foreign interest and activity disclosure requirements in accordance with National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) 33: Presidential Memorandum on United States Government-Supported Research and National Security.

Virginia Tech remains committed to meeting regulatory compliance in all areas of education and research activities so that stakeholders are responsible stewards of public and private funding. Federal sponsors issue requirements for researchers to disclose their foreign and domestic affiliations, interests, and activities; therefore, researchers must promptly disclose to federal sponsors all relevant activities and information that bear on potential conflicts of interest and commitment. Disclosure remains part of the broader set of researchers’ responsibilities to ensure objectivity, honesty, transparency, fairness, accountability, and stewardship.

Faculty and Staff Foreign Interest Disclosure Responsibilities

What, How, and When to Disclose to Virginia Tech

Employees must disclose additional work commitments and financial 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 university's Disclosure and Management System. Please visit the Disclosure Guidelines & Requirements page for more information. Contact the Virginia Tech Research Conflict of Interest (RCOI) Program at COI@vt.edu if you have questions regarding disclosure requirements under this policy. 

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

 

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 486.1A 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.

For DoE awards referencing DoE Order O 142.3(A or B) Virginia Tech must disclose and seek approval for foreign nationals to participate in the Award. OSP and OESRC will assist with completion of the Form NETL 142.1-1A "Request for Unclassified Foreign National Access (Short Form) or other applicable sponsor-privided documentation. Note that DoE Order 142.3B requires submission to DoE of Ciriculum Vitae (CVs) for all foreign national participants. The CVs must cover at least the previous 10 years with no breaks in reporting. 

For NSF and NIH, 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. DoE requires disclosure of any foreign person who will have access to DoE physical sites, information, or technologies.

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 Biosketch or  “Faculties, Equipment and Other resources” proposal sections. For NIH, disclosure can be made on the Biosketch or  PHS 398/2590 OTHER SUPPORT section of the proposal.NIH disclosure of other support should be made in the Just In Time filing.  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 486.1A Department of Energy Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs, and DoE Order O 142.3B Unclassified Foreign National Access Program, 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 or O rder O 142.3B on a case by case basis with the prime contractor. 

Federal guidance varied  regarding these activities needing to be disclosed as Other Support. NSF and NIH do not require disclosure of Honoraria. Other federal agencies are not so clear. Virginia Tech recommends disclosure of these activities to the federal to DoE and DoE. NASA requires disclosure if a Chinese entity  (which includes Chinese universities and other institutions of higher learning). If you have questions about whether to disclose or how to disclose an affiliation or activity, contact foreigninfl@vt.edu.

Yes – contact foreigninfl@vt.edu to have your application corrected. NSF and NIH provide guidance in the form of Pre-Award and Post-Award Disclosure tables that instruct you about what, when, and how to disclose after award. 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. However, NSF and NIH have provided specific guidance when foreign travel must be disclosed. 

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 to foreigninfl@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 foreigninfl@vt.edu .

 

A table entitled, NSF Pre-award and Post-award Disclosures Relating to the Biographical Sketch and Current and Pending Support, has been developed to provide additional helpful reference information regarding pre-award and post-award disclosure information in the biographical sketch and current and pending support proposal sections.

The table identifies where these disclosures must be provided in proposals as well as in project reports.

The Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG), Chapter II.C.2.h states “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.” Senior personnel are required to provide “the number of person-months (or partial person-months) per year to be devoted to the project by the individual.” NSF uses the information provided to assess the capacity of the individual to carry out the research as proposed, as well as to help assess any potential overlap/duplication with the project being proposed.

Person-month information included in current and pending support may differ from the person-months requested on the budget for a given project.

It is important to note that NSF is not asking for how much time is specified on the budget for a particular individual(s); rather, for their Current and Pending Support submission, how much time the individual(s) is/are planning to spend to complete the scope of work on the proposed project and/or award. If the individual(s) will be spending time on the proposed project or award, then that time must be reported in Current and Pending Support.

For projects that exceed five years, individuals should report on the next five years of the project in current and pending support. For example, if the individual is in year three of a ten-year award, they would report on years three through seven.

If you are reporting person-months that span two calendar years, you should enter the latter year. For example, if your entry covers your organization’s fiscal year of June 2021 through May 2022, you would enter “2022” for the year and include the corresponding person-months as defined and used by your organization in proposals submitted to NSF.

In most cases, NSF accepts proposals from and awards grants to an organization, not to an individual. In submitting a proposal and/or accepting federal funds under a grant instrument, proposers/grantees assume legal and financial responsibility and accountability for the content of the submitted proposal, any awarded funds and the performance of the grant-supported activity.

As such, proposers/grantees are responsible for all information and data provided to the federal agency under the proposal or grant agreement and may need to confirm the accuracy and completeness of the information that its employees provide to the AOR in order to appropriately comply with NSF’s policies on reporting current and pending support. NSF does not dictate the terms of or interfere with the employment relationship between the grantee and its employees. Organizations will need to establish whatever internal communication or other processes they believe are necessary in order to provide the required current and pending support information.

An individual need not identify any mentoring activities in their current and pending support submission that take place as part of their regular appointment at the proposing organization. If an individual, however, receives in-kind support either directly or through their organization from an external source to support mentoring of undergraduate or graduate students, that in-kind support, including the time associated with such mentoring, should be identified in the individual’s current and pending support submission.

“Research endeavors” in the context of the guidance provided in PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.h. does refer to the endeavors of the particular individual. The current and pending support information that must be provided is all planned, pending, and current support that is either provided directly to the individual, or to the individual through their organization in support of that individual’s research endeavors. Therefore, a trainee’s research does not need to be reported.

If an HHMI investigator is proposed to serve as senior personnel and is not requesting salary compensation in the NSF budget, then their name, and the estimated amount of time to be devoted to the project should be identified in the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal.

If a PI or co-PI is not requesting salary support, they should be removed from the budget and their name and the estimated amount of time to be devoted to the project should be identified in the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal.

The total award amount requested or received by the subawardee organization must be provided in Current and Pending Support.

Yes, if your organization seeks NSF funding, the information must be disclosed. Section 223 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (Public Law No: 116-283 (01/01/2021)) and NSF policies require disclosure, even if such funding is deemed confidential.

To the extent allowed by law, NSF does not publicly disclose any information regarding pending proposals. With regard to proposals that receive NSF funding, NSF typically does not disclose information in the proposal regarding current and pending support from non-U.S. Government sources. NSF needs the information in the current and pending support section of the proposal to assess PI capacity and potential overlap/duplication.

Yes, in addition to ongoing projects and proposals currently under consideration from whatever source, the current and pending support information also must be provided for this proposed project and listed as “Pending”. See PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.h for additional guidance.

In instances when senior personnel are not actively working on a project during each year, only years in which they are committing time should be listed. In the example above, only years 1 and 3 would be entered in current and pending support. Year 2 would not be listed.

Case Studies

Harvard University Case Study (Updated)

On December 21, 2021, Harvard Professor Dr. Charles Lieber was found guilty of concealing his affiliation with the Wuhan University of Technology and his participation in China’s Thousand Talents Program. The former Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department was convicted by a federal jury in connection with lying to federal authorities about his affiliation with the People’s Republic of China’s Thousand Talents Program and the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in Wuhan, China, as well as failing to report income he received from WUT.

University of Washington Case Study

The University of Washington has agreed to pay more than $800,000 to settle Justice Department allegations that a professor submntted false documentation relating to a highly competitive grant.  The grant documents, submitted to NSF by Mehmet Sarikaya, a professor in the university's Materials Science and Engineering Department, misrepresented the involvement of two researchers who in reality were not involved in the work. 

The Ohio State University Case Study [Updated August 2021]

Dr.  Song Guo Zheng, an rheumatology professor and researcher at The Ohio State University, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for making false statements to federal authorities as part of an immunology research fraud scheme. Dr. Zheng was also ordered to pay more than $3.4 million in restitution to NIH and approximately $413,000 to The Ohio State University.

Dr. Zheng admitted that he lied on applications in order to use approximately $4.1 million in grants from NIH to develop China's expertise in the areas of rheumatology and immunology. He concealed his participation in Chinese government talent recruitment programs, including the Chinese government's Thousand Talent program, and hiding his affiliations with at least five research institutions in China.  

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Case Study (Updated May 2022)

On April 21, 2021, Dr. Mingqing Xiao, a mathematics professor and researcher at Southern University of Illinois-Carbondale (SIUC) was charged with two counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements. Dr. Xiao is accused of fradulently obtaining $151,099 of federal grant money from NSF by concealing support he was receiving from the Chinese government, and Shenzhen University, a Chinese university. On May 4, 2022, Dr. Xaio was found guilty of tax charges but not grant fraud.

Nationwide Children's Hospital Research Institute Case Study

On April 20, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that Yu Zhou and his wife and co-conspirator Li Chen, pled guilty to charges of conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from Nationwide Children's Hospital Research Institute (NCHRI). Chen was sentenced in February o 30 months in prison for her role in the scheme. 

According to court documents, Zhou and Chen worked at separate medical research labs at NCHRI for ten years. Zhou and Chen conspired to steal and monetize one of the trade secrets by creating and selling exosome "isolation kits". They started a company in China to sell the kits.

As part of their convictions, the couple will forfeit approximately $1.45 million, 500.000 shares in common stock of Avalon GlobaCare Corporation, and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc. They were also ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution. 

Georgia Tech Case Study

On March 18, 2021, Gee-Kung Chang, a Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) professor, was charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud. According to the charges, Dr. Chang and Jainjun Yu, then a research director at ZTE USA- a subsidiary of ZTE Corporation, a partially state-owned Chinese telecommunications and information technology company- in Morristown, New Jersey, allegedly conspired together to bring Chinese nationals to the United States to conduct research at the company. 

To facilitate the entry of the Chinese nationals into the United States, Chang allegedly abused his position as a professor at Georgia Tech, an institution that was a designated exchange sponsor for the Department of State's J-1 Visa program, to arrange for Chinese nationals to fraudulantly obtain and maintain J-1 Visas. The indictment alleges that the Chinese nationals indicated that they would be working with Chang at Georgia Tech, however, they actually traveled to and resided in New Jersey, working with Yu at ZTE USA.

Stanford Case Study

On February 18, 2021, the Justice Department announced that "a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging Chen Song, a Stanford University visiting researcher, with visa fraud, obstruction of justice, destruction of documents, and false statements in connection with a scheme to conceal and lie about her status as a member of the People's Republic of China's military forces while in the United States while in the United States". 

Van Andel Research Institute Case Study

The Department of Justice reached a $5.5 million settlement with Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) to resolve allegations of undisclosed Chinese grants to two researchers. The settlement resolves certain factual misrepresentations VARI made to NIH with deliberate ignorance or reckless disregard for the truth regarding the Chinese grants.

MIT Case Study (Updated)

The United States dropped charges against an MIT professor, Dr. Gang Chen. Dr. Chen was accused of failing to disclose contracts, appointments, and awards from various entities in the People's Republic of China to the U.S. Department of Energy.

University of Kansas Case Study [Updated April 2022]

On April 7th, 2022, a former University of Kansas (KU) professor was convicted by a federal jury on three counts of wire fraud and one count of false statements after he deliberately concealed that he was also employed by a government-affiliated university in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), while working on U.S. government funded research at KU. Dr. Tao, was accused of failing to disclose an employment contract with Fuzhou University. He continued to receive federal research dollars without disclosing this relationship and certifying that he had no conflict of interest or commitment. The  judge in the case is considering dismissing the jury verdict for legal insufficiency.

University of Virginia Case Study

While attempting to leave the United States, UVA professor Dr. Haizhou Hu was arrested and charged with accessing a computer without authorization, or exceeding authorization to obtain information from a protected computer and theft of trade secrets. Hu allegedly unlawfully possessed bio-inspired research simulation software code that he was not authorized to possess, and which represented the result of years of research and resources in its development by members of the UVA academic community.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal September 23, 2020, charges against Dr. Hu were dropped.

Texas A&M Case Study

Texas A&M professor Dr. Zhengdong Cheng working on U.S. space projects allegedly hid affiliations with two Chinese state-owned academic and commercial institutions been charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud.

"Professor Cheng allegedly made false statements to his university and to NASA regarding his affiliations with the Chinese goverment."

In additon to the funds, Cheng personally benefited from his affiliation with TAMU and NASA with increased access to unique NASA resources , such as the International Space Station. This access allegedly allowed Cheng to further his standing in China at Guandong University of Technology and other universities. The charges further allege he held senior research positions there unknown to TAMU and NASA and was able to serve in the People's Republic of China Talents program.

University of Arkansas Case Study (Updated)

On January 21, 2022, a University of Arkansas professor, Dr. Simon Saw-Teong Ang, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, pled guilty of one count of making false statements to the FBI about his status as an inventor. All other charges were dropped. Dr. Chen was arrested on Friday, May 8, 2020, on charges related to Wire Fraud.  The complaint charges that Ang had close ties with the Chinese government and Chinese companies, and failed to disclose those ties when required to do so in order to receive grant money from NASA.  These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang’s scheme to defraud.”

Emory University Case Study

On May 8, 2020, Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with filing a false tax return and has been sentenced by a U.S. District Judge and ordered to repay over $35,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.  Dr. Li, a former Emory University professor and Chinese Thousand Talents Program participant, worked overseas at Chinese Universities and did not report any of his foreign income on his federal tax returns.

University of West Virginia Case Study

 Dr. James Patrick Lewis, of Fairview, West Virginia, has admitted to a fraud charge involving West Virginia University, the Department of Justice announced. In July 2017, Lewis, a tenured physics professor at West Virginia University, entered into a contract of employment with the People’s Republic of China through its “Global Experts 1000 Talents Plan.

“Lewis defrauded a public university into giving him leave, so that he could satisfy his competing obligations to a Chinese institution, which he hid from the school,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

University of Tennessee Knoxville Case Study (Updated)

Dr. Anming Hu, an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) was arrested February 27, 2020 on a federal indictment and charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements.

“Hu allegedly committed fraud by hiding his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving funding from NASA,”

Dr. Hu was accused of failing to disclose an affiliation with Beijing University of Technology. Dr. Hu’s false representations and omissions to UTK about his affiliation with BJUT caused UTK to falsely certify to NASA that UTK was in compliance with this federal law.

The case was dismissed as a mistrial in June 2021. In August 2021, prosecutors announced they would seek a retrial. On September 9, 2021, the presiding judge dismissed the case summarily.

Recent News

 

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 foreigninfl@vt.edu.