NSTC Developing New Plans to Reduce Foreign Influence on U.S. Research

Co-chair of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Kelvin Droegemeier, PhD, is developing new requirements for what information researchers must disclose to receive federal research grants. Dr. Droegemeier, who also is President Donald Trump’s science advisor, hopes that these regulations will prevent national security breaches and preserve the integrity of National of Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded research.

As NSTC co-chair, Dr. Droegemeier helps to oversee and coordinate federal agencies’ individual efforts and plans to visit academic institutions across the U.S. to speak with scientists affected by or interested in the recent crackdown on foreign influence on U.S.-funded research. In May, the NSTC formed a committee to explore research security issues and collect examples in which U.S. research was exploited or compromised.

Earlier this year, allegations of research espionage and failure to disclose foreign
sources of research funding at MD Anderson and Emory University led to the firing of ethnically Chinese scientists. The NIH also has been investigating international scientists for allegedly violating agency rules, raising concerns about racial profiling and balancing national security against the free exchange of ideas. (ASH Clinical News explored this topic in our July 2019 feature, “The Spy Next Door?”)

“This is an opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles of research, which require ethical behavior, honesty, and integrity. I don’t think any researcher would argue that we want to compromise on these things,” said Dr. Droegemeier.

This focus on national research security comes as new reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general revealed how foreign governments and corporations could profit from U.S. academic institutions’ failure to protect research.

For example, 54% of NIH-funded research institutions – 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.”

Source: Nature, September 17, 2019; STAT, September 27, 2019.