VBIO

After NIH, NSF Asked about Foreign Influence on Research

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has asked the National Science Foundation (NSF) about the processes in place at the agency to detect and deter foreign threats to federally-funded research.
In the letter to NSF Director France Córdova dated April 15, 2019, Senator Grassley asks about the background check process used to vet recipients of NSF grants, the rules and procedures in place to prevent any theft of research data and findings, the resources and dollars used to identify and investigate such violations, and the enforcement mechanisms to protect intellectual property generated by taxpayer-funded research.  He also asks how many audits have been conducted in the last five years to identify potential violations concerning foreign affiliations and whether the agency is coordinating its efforts to address potential threats with other federal agencies, such as the Justice Department or the State Department.  He has given the agency a two-week deadline to respond to his enquiries. 

Senator Grassley has previously made similar enquiries to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense.  His October 2018 letter to NIH prompted investigations into a dozen allegations of “noncompliance related to medical research” by the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Earlier this month, NIH Director Francis Collins revealed during a Senate budget hearing that investigations of foreign scientists receiving NIH funds are currently underway at 55 institutions and some scientists have been found guilty of not appropriately disclosing foreign funding, redirecting intellectual property generated by their U.S. institution, or sending grant proposals to a foreign country, allowing for the theft of ideas.  Collins indicated that some researchers could potentially be fired.  Some U.S. universities are expected to announce actions they have taken to address foreign threats to NIH-funded research in the near future.
 
Readers of BioScience were alerted to investigations of foreign influence likely spreading to other agencies in an editorial published in the April 2019 issue.  The editorial warned, “Researchers, regardless of whether funded by the NIH or another federal agency, should take our renewed national attention to international security and intellectual property seriously,” and that the inquiries into NIH research could be directed to other agencies as well.  Read the editorial here: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/69/4/235/5427088

(AIBS)