Inappropriate Foreign Influence

As one of the world's leading research institutions, Princeton University is composed of talented, diverse individuals who contribute to its commitment of service to the nation and humanity.  To this end, Princeton's research enterprise seeks out mutually-beneficial collaborations across the globe.    Recently, U.S. government representatives on both sides of the aisle and federal law enforcement agencies have expressed growing concern about security threats posed to the United States by actors representing non-U.S. interests that they term “foreign influence”. “Foreign influence” represents a concern in different arenas of American society, including the U.S. research enterprise.  Princeton recognizes that language is important, and as such, we have not internally adopted the term “foreign influence” used by the U.S. government. We instead refer to this activity as “inappropriate foreign influence”.

Many of Princeton’s major federal sponsors are issuing guidance regarding inappropriate foreign influence.  Princeton has developed a set of principles designed to guide the formulation of policies that mitigate the risks arising from such inappropriate influence, while upholding the University’s core values of openness, respect and inclusion.  Listed below is specific information from our major federal government sponsors.  This information will be updated as required.  We recommend you check back periodcally to stay informed on this topic.

    The issues raising concern for agencies and federal funders can be summarized as:

    • Failure to Fully Disclose Information: Failure by some researchers to fully disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments, financial conflicts of interest, significant professional or employment-related commitments such as appointments at foreign institutions, etc. in their grant proposals or institutionally required disclosures.
    • Integrity of Peer Review Process: Sharing of confidential information on grant applications by peer reviewers with unauthorized others, including foreign entities, or otherwise attempting to influence funding decisions.
    • Loss of Intellectual Property (IP): A number of reported instances of unauthorized removal of data from research laboratories in the U.S. have resulted in the loss of intellectual property including, in some instances, publication of the misappropriated data before the U.S. scientists from whom it was taken were able to publish.
    • Compliance with Regulatory Requirements: U.S. Export Control laws and regulations establish a set of requirements for transfer of technology and data to foreign countries and/or foreign nationals, including persons in the U.S.  In addition, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restricts interactions with individuals or entities on its Sanctions Lists.

    All investigators on sponsored projects should confirm current disclosure requirements in applications to various federal agencies and, if in doubt, contact their ORPA Grant and Contract Administrator for disclosure assistance or further guidance.  

    Inappropriate Foreign Influence Training

    Central Administration Staff

    Inappropriate Foreign Influence in Research is a current critical topic in the administration of research and sponsored programs. Under the sponsorship and direction of the Office of the Dean for Research (DFR) and the Office of General Counsel (OGC), ORPA recently engaged external counsel to help develop and deliver this training in partnership with several other central offices, including Research Integrity and Assurance (RIA), Sponsored Research Accounting (SRA), the Dean of the Faculty (DOF) and the Office of Audit and Compliance (OAC).

    • This central administration staff member training is meant to develop a knowledge base in inappropriate foreign influence as well as enhance shared understanding across units on this important and timely topic. 
    • This training is required for central-level and academic unit-level staff that work with sponsored funds and administer research. Sessions focused on academic unit-level staff will follow later in the fall.
    • Virtual live training sessions for relevant central administration staff are scheduled as listed below.  Registration is required and may be accessed through the Employee Learning Center, under the ORPA tab.

    Inappropriate Foreign Influence in Research

    Tuesday, September 22nd from 10:30am-12 noon or Thursday, October 1st from 10:30am-12 noon

    As a world-leading institution whose mission is the creation, transmission and preservation of knowledge, Princeton University thrives by attracting talent from across the world, and by embracing the free exchange of knowledge and ideas. Princeton is committed to a culture of inclusion and respect towards all members of the scholarly community.

    Since 2018, U.S. government officials, on both sides of the aisle, have expressed growing concern about security threats posed by inappropriate foreign influence in research. The most serious allegations include instances of academic espionage aimed at illegally acquiring intellectual property and non-disclosure of foreign funding that overlaps with federally-funded research.

    The Office of Research and Project Administration, under the sponsorship of the Dean for Research and the Office of General Counsel, is pleased to offer this training aimed to promote a better understanding of inappropriate foreign influence in research among central administration staff supporting research. The session will include topics such as, why inappropriate foreign influence is relevant now, current federal agency guidance relating to foreign influence, and relevant roles and responsibilities in the University.  

    Case Studies in Inappropriate Foreign Influence in Research

    Thursday, October 8th from 1:00 - 2:30 pm

    This session is an interactive follow-up to the Inappropriate Foreign Influence in Research training listed above. Central administration staff will be guided by an instructor through a case study as they apply knowledge gained in the first training session, as well as work together/discuss practical issues relating to inappropriate foreign influence in small break-out rooms.  Please note that the “Inappropriate Foreign Influence in Research” session is a prerequisite for this class.


    Academic Unit Level Staff

    Training for this employee class will be announced later in the Fall 2020.

    Agency Specific Guidance

    NIH - National Insitutes of Health

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a notice NOT-OD-19-114 on July 10, 2019 as well as FAQ on August 6, 2019, reminding research institutions that NIH-funded researchers must “report foreign activities through documentation of other support, foreign components, and financial conflict of interest to prevent scientific, budgetary, or commitment overlap.”  Please take your time to review the notice and the FAQ in their entirety to ensure compliance in your NIH submissions.  Notably, the above-referenced information originally published by NIH in summer of 2019 included extremely broad and new reporting requirements for other support. On the basis of subsequent dialogue with the U.S. university community, NIH pulled back on some of the original requirements and re-issued guidance representing a more mild set of changes.

    Other Support includes “all resources made available to a researcher in support of and/or related to all of their research endeavors, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value and regardless of whether they are based at the institution the researcher identifies for the current grant.” Resources that may be considered Other Support include, but are not limited to:

    • Grants or contracts from federal or government agencies;
    • Grants or contracts from corporate, nongovernment or foreign entities;
    • Grants or contracts through other institutions, including institutions in foreign countries;
    • In-kind lab space, office space, scientific materials; and
    • Personnel/staff supported by sources other than the project being proposed.


    Other Support should be disclosed when requested at Just-in-time and if necessary updated in the annual Research Performance Progress Reports (RPPRs).

    Biosketches should list all positions and scientific appointments both domestic and and foreign held by senior/key personnel that are relevant to an application including affilaitions with foreign entities or goverenments.  This includes titled academic, professional or institutional appointment whether or not renumeration is received, and whether full-time, part-time or voluntary (including adjunct, vitisting or honorary.)


    Under the NIH Grants Policy Statement,  a Foreign Component is defined 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.” Activities that would meet the definition of foreign component include, but are not limited to:

    • Human or animal research conducted overseas;
    • Extensive foreign travel for data collection, surveying, sampling, & similar activities;
    • Collaborations with investigators at a foreign site anticipated to result in co-authorship; 
    • Use of facilities or instrumentation at a foreign site; 
    • Receipt of financial support or resources from a foreign entity; or 
    • Any activity that may have an impact on U.S. foreign policy.


    There are multiple ways in which foreign components should be disclosed, including 

    • Identifying a foreign component in an NIH grant application;
    • Listing a non-U.S. performance site (e.g., a foreign consultant or subawardee);
    • Listing foreign professional appointments, relationships and activities in a biosketch;
    • Answering “yes” to the question on the R&R Other Project Information Form asking, “Does this project involve activities outside of the United States or partnerships with international collaborators?”; and
    • Describing each foreign component separately in Section G.9 of the annual Research Performance Progress Report.


    Principal Investigators (PIs) should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all foreign components have been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact their departmental grants administrator and their ORPA Grant and Contract Administrator for assistance in correcting the error.

    NSF - National Science Foundation

    On July 11, 2019, the National Science Foundation (NSF), Director France Cordova, issued a Dear Colleague Letter: Research Protection providing an agency-level view of the matter of research protection, including recent steps NSF has taken to mitigate risks from “activities threatening our research community, such as certain foreign-government-sponsored talent requirement programs.” 


    Additionally this summer, the NSF released its draft version of its Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG), NSF 20-1, which included significant reporting changes related to inappropriate foreign influence.  After requesting public comment on its planned updates to the PAPPG, the agency received substantial feedback.  The NSF is reviewing the feedback, and as a result,  is now expected to issue a new PAPPG in later 2020, and not in January 2020 as originally planned.   The related draft information can be reviewed in the PAPPG, pageII-23 - Chapter II-C.2.f and h.


    DOD - Department of Defense

    On March 20, 2019, the Department of Defense issued a memo outlining the requirements of the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes provisions that: 

    • Support protection of intellectual property, controlled information, key personnel, and information about critical technologies relevant to national security; and
    • Limit undue influence, including through foreign talent programs, by countries that seek to exploit United States technology within the Department of Defense research, science and technology, and innovation enterprise.
    • Restrict the use of federal funding to institutions doing business with certain Chinese telecommunications companies.   

    Proposers to new and ongoing DOD research projects (pertaining to research and research-related educational activities; optional for other types of grants) are required to submit the following information for all key personnel, whether or not the individuals' efforts under the project are to be funded by the DOD (e.g. ONR, federal, state, local or foreign government agencies, public or private foundations, industrial or other commerical organizations) :

    • A list of all current projects the individual is working on, in addition to any future support the individual has applied to receive, regardless of the source.
    • Title and objectives of the other research projects.
    • The percentage per year to be devoted to the other projects.
    • The total amount of support the individual is receiving in connection to each of the other research projects or will receive if other proposals are awarded.
    • Name and address of the agencies and/or other parties supporting the other research projects.
    • Period of performance for the other research projects.
    DOE - Department of Energy

    The Department of Energy (DOE) issued a directive dated June 7, 2019, mandating that “federal and contractor personnel fully disclose and, as necessary, terminate affiliations with foreign government-supported talent recruitment programs” on DOE contracts and subcontracts.   Such foreign talent programs appear to represent an attempt to rapidly improve those countries’ scientific capabilities.  

    Currently, the DOE policy prohibiting researchers from participating in foreign talent recruitment programs only applies to investigators and contractors working at DOE national labs.  This policy has been implemented at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL).  The U.S, university community is monitoring the situation as this requirement may be implemented by the DOE in grants in the near future.

    NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    NASA has long-standing restrictions in its grant and contract awards on using NASA funds to enter into agreements “to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company, at the prime recipient level or at any subrecipient level, whether the bilateral involvement is funded or performed under a no-exchange of funds arrangement”.