UW Research

October 1, 2019

Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities: Update on Science and Security dated 9/3/19

Reproduced from email dated 9.3.19 from the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities

TO: Council of Presidents
FROM:APLU President Peter McPherson
CC: Council on Academic Affairs; Council on Governmental Affairs; Council on Research; Council on Strategic Communications; Commission on International Initiatives
DATE: September 3, 2019
RE: Update on Science and Security

Recent law enforcement activities across the country and continued warnings by federal intelligence agencies require the higher education community to examine the complexity of the threat of foreign interference to universities. In any case, U.S. universities have long recognized their responsibility to develop and appropriately protect the discoveries and technologies integral to our national security.

APLU is engaging key policymakers and federal security and research agencies and working closely with our higher education association partners to help address issues related to research security. I know many of our institutions are deeply engaged and focused on this matter. I urge all APLU institutions to examine their operations and utilize, as applicable, the APLU-AAU Effective Practices Summary for potential policies, procedures, and tools. Below is an update on the latest in Washington, including federal agency updates, for consideration.

New APLU Science and Security Website and Resources

The APLU Science and Security website is now live. We welcome your feedback on the page as well as suggestions for additional resources. The site will be regularly updated.

Science and Security Agency Action Update

The FBI recently updated its guidance document “ China – The Risk to Academia.”  The document outlines the FBI’s concerns regarding foreign influence and espionage and provides case examples and agency recommendations on how to protect institutions.

In recent months, federal agencies have issued letters, guidance, and policy statements clarifying and adding additional research security measures within their standards and grant application processes. APLU continues to work with agencies to request clarification of certain guidance and ensure that new policies do not hinder the application process or exclude certain groups from contributing to research projects on our campuses. Below are noteworthy agency updates.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group for Foreign Influences on Research Integrity provided an update in June, building upon the Working Group’s December 2018 presentation and report. The update cites the APLU-AAU Effective Practices Summary.

Dr. Michael Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at NIH, presented on “Responding to Undue Foreign Influence and Security Concerns on Campus” at the APLU Commission on Economic and Community Engagement (CECE) and Council on Research (CoR) Joint Summer Meeting at Penn State, also in June.

Since then, NIH released a Guide Notice on “Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components” along with Frequently Asked Questions on Other Support and Foreign Components.  APLU and other higher education associations have requested clarification on some of the changes in the Guide Notice regarding the reporting of financial sources.  NIH has updated the FAQs document in light of this request, and further revisions are expected.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

On July 11, NSF Director Dr. France Cordova issued a “ Dear Colleague” letter reaffirming NSF’s dedication to “maintaining a vibrant and diverse research community” but emphasizing the need to be vigilant against threats to research security.  In her letter, Dr. Cordova outlines three of the agency’s initiatives and policies to help mitigate risks from foreign influence:

  • NSF will renew efforts to ensure that existing requirements to disclose current and pending support information are known, understood, and followed. To streamline the disclosure process, NSF will move to an electronic format starting in January 2020.
  • NSF is supporting a study by the JASON independent scientific advisory group on balancing basic research and security and assessing the risks associated with key disciplines. This report will be completed by the end of the calendar year.
  • NSF provided guidance about the obligations of NSF personnel and rotators regarding the prohibition of participation in foreign government talent recruitment programs.

The National Science Board additionally held a Science and Security Roundtable during its July meeting.

Department of Energy (DOE)

The DOE issued a memo in December 2018 announcing agency plans to restrict “international scientific research collaborations that may pose potential risk to U.S. national interests.”  The memo laid out plans to create a Science and Technology (S&T) Risk Matrix that will inform future decisions about international collaborations with select “sensitive” countries. The agency issued a second memo in January 2019 prohibiting DOE personnel from participating in foreign talent recruitment programs.

In June 2019, the Department issued an order to codify this prohibition and also require the Director of the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence to develop and maintain a list of foreign government talent recruitment programs.

Department of Defense (DoD)

In March, DoD issued a memo on “Actions for the Protection of Intellectual Property, Controlled Information, Key Personnel and Critical Technologies.”  The DoD now requires all funding proposals to list all current projects the investigator is working on, in addition to any future support the individual has applied to receive regardless of the source.

Dr. Michael Griffin, DoD Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, outlined further activities to protect DoD-funded research from foreign threats in a recent letter in response to an inquiry from Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Department of Education

In February, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report criticizing China’s impact on the U.S. education system.  In particular, the report highlighted Committee concerns about Chinese government-supported Confucius Institutes. The report was critical of the Department of Education’s enforcement of Sec. 117 of the Higher Education Act, which requires institutions to report any foreign sponsored gifts or contracts over $250,000.

In June, the Department of Education issued investigation letters to Texas A&M University and Georgetown University focused on Sec. 117 reporting. The Department followed up with additional investigation letters sent to Rutgers University and Cornell University in July.

The Department of Education has never published official Federal Register rules instructing institutions on compliance with this requirement. APLU and other higher education associations have repeatedly written to the Department of Education seeking clarity on the reporting requirements surrounding Section 117. Unfortunately, the Department’s responses to the letters have not added significant clarity.

I wrote to Secretary DeVos last week to note the inherent unfairness of holding institutions accountable for reporting requirements while simultaneously failing to make clear the requirements themselves.

Science and Security Legislation Update

More than 20 bills related to science and security, international students and academic collaboration with China have been introduced in the 116 th Congress.  APLU has created a comprehensive list that we will update periodically.  Our overarching advocacy goal is to ensure that enhanced security controls can be integrated into our universities while maintaining international collaborations and open sharing of knowledge, which is an integral part of the U.S. university ecosystem.  APLU’s advocacy work emphasizes that security controls should not discriminate against or target only one group of students and faculty on our campuses or significantly add to unfunded administrative burden on our universities.

While many of the introduced bills have not advanced, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a bill that must pass annually, and numerous amendments on science and security were offered during debate as the House and Senate separately considered their bills.  APLU and our higher education association partners were successful in pushing back against several amendments that could have prevented the open sharing of basic research.

On the positive side, the Securing American Science and Technology Act (SASTA) was included as an amendment in the House version of the NDAA.  APLU and other associations released a statement in support of the bill when it was first introduced in the House and strongly advocated for its inclusion in the final NDAA.  SASTA establishes an interagency working group of federal science, intelligence and security agencies under the direction of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), along with a National Science, Technology and Security Roundtable convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The NDAA is now headed into conference where the House of Representatives and the Senate will designate conferees to work out differences between the two bills and develop the final legislation. APLU is tracking certain provisions in both versions of the NDAA that pertain to research security and is working closely with other higher education associations to advocate for our shared priorities.

Outside of the NDAA, APLU continues to work with Congress and the administration to highlight what our universities are doing to protect federally funded research on campuses and articulate how we can best partner with agencies and the intelligence community in this space. APLU’s Council on Governmental Affairs, the federal relations officers of our member universities, has been critical to the higher education community’s advocacy effectiveness.

News Roundup

Below is a collection of recent news stories related to research security:

APLU continues to work on these issues and encourages your continued engagement and feedback. We will keep you apprised of future developments. Please direct any questions or comments related to science and security to APLU Assistant Vice President for Research Advocacy and Policy Debbie Altenburg or APLU Assistant Director of Congressional and Governmental Affairs D’Elia Wernecke. We thank APLU Director of Science & Research Policy Sarah Rovito for her many contributions in this space and wish her well as she leaves APLU for a Capitol Hill Fellowship in September.

Signed by Peter McPherson