White House issues guidance to federal agencies on research security requirements

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In January, the White House released a document to guide federal agencies in carrying out the requirements of a National Security Presidential Memorandum on Government-supported research (NSPM-33), which was released last year. These requirements are intended to protect U.S.-supported research against foreign government interference while maintaining an open environment to foster discoveries and innovation.

Now, federal research and grant-providing agencies have 120 days to develop model grant application forms and clear, consistent instructions on how researchers will disclose information to the federal government. As agencies work to make these updates, many will be seeking input from external stakeholders, including researchers in the geosciences.

Over the next 120 days, there will be many opportunities for the AGU community to provide input. As an organization that serves a large, global community of Earth and space scientists, AGU recognizes the importance of protecting research security while supporting a scientific culture where individuals from all backgrounds are equitably included.

We encourage you all to learn as much as you can about how these new policies will impact your own research and get involved in the process. To help, we’ve outlined some of the recent issues around research security and the White House’s guidance for federal agencies to carry out this process.

The White House has set up an email address to accept input, [email protected], and individual agencies are finalizing their own input plans. AGU will keep you updated as we learn more about these plans.

Please email [email protected] to get involved. We look forward to working with our community to help provide recommendations to the federal government as it develops these policies.

The state of research security
Over the last few years, policymakers have grown increasingly concerned about possible national security breaches related to U.S.-funded research. However, such concerns have also led to charges of racial and ethnic profiling, as well as a chilling effect on international scientific collaboration.

In recent weeks, there have been at least two high-profile cases of professors being prosecuted for receiving and not disclosing foreign funds for research activities, one of which led to a jury conviction because the professor had lied to the FBI about receiving such funds and another to an acquittal after the dismissal of the case by a judge.

In issuing this guidance, Eric Lander, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, indicated the importance of balancing serious research security threats with the invaluable contributions made by scientists and engineers from around the world. He said, “We must affirm the integral role of Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and people of all national origins in this country; welcome international students and scholars; and avoid casting aspersions on people because of their identity or origins.”

A guide for research agencies
The guidance memo lays out the minimum standards and requirements needed to comply with NSPM-33, as well as provisions in the recently passed the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The memo also describes overarching guidance research agencies should address, such as the need to support open and transparent inquiry, to minimize administrative burdens through coordination with other agencies and use of digital tools, and to ensure that measures taken are risk-based such that they are worth any burden to researchers and institutions.

Agencies will also be expected to use common standards, Digital Persistent Identifiers (DPIs), and a centralized research security program certification process for research organizations. Retroactive application of any new standards or protocols is actively discouraged, and every effort will be made to ensure that the research community can correct omissions or errors.

The guidance memo includes a table to specify who should be making disclosures and what kinds of information they must disclose. Two agencies already released their own guidelines: the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The memo outlines detailed standards, guidelines and processes for agencies to consider in addressing standardization of disclosures among agencies, DPIs, consequences for violation of disclosure requirements, information sharing with other agencies and the public, and research security programs for institutions receiving grants totaling $50 million a year.

Note that the memo does not itself lay out any specific forms or templates, nor does it specify what steps will be taken in the case of violation of disclosure requirements – all that is still to come.

Over the next 120 days, we encourage urge you to learn more about these changes and contribute to this process. If you’d like to get involved, please email [email protected].

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