Federal Watchdog Report Shows NIH Must Better Protect U.S. Research From Foreign Influence

New reports issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general show that foreign governments and corporations could profit from U.S. academic institutions’ failure to protect research.

For example, the report found that 54% of research institutions funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — approximately 1,000 universities and academic centers — have not published financial conflict-of-interest policies online. In 2018, the NIH only conducted three audits into grantee efforts to safeguard their research – 25 fewer than in 2012.

“The concern, generally speaking, is whether financial interests threaten or distort the use of NIH funds for their intended research purpose or the results of that scientific research,” Erin Bliss, assistant HHS inspector general, said. “There are also concerns around the diversion of intellectual property, which could be an economic or a national security risk, and the potential for distortion or inappropriate influence of funding decisions.”

For the past year, Congress, the FBI, and the HHS inspector general have been closely watching the NIH following alleged lapses in oversight that allowed foreign governments to steal sensitive information from U.S. research laboratories.

In the July 2019 issue, ASH Clinical News spoke with Joanne Carney, director of government relations at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other stakeholders about foreign influences on research integrity and efforts to prevent research espionage.

Source: STAT, September 27, 2019.