Disclosing Financial Interests and Outside Activities with International Partners
by Ashley Guritza, Associate Director of the Office of Export Controls Compliance
International activities and partnerships are a valued and a key part of the academic and research experience. Unfortunately, foreign adversaries may take advantage of the open and collaborative approach U.S. researchers and their institutions use when conducting research. Through espionage efforts, foreign entities can acquire research, sensitive information, intellectual property, and trade secrets. Through disclosing outside activities and interests with international partners, those relationships can be evaluated to assist faculty in avoiding the risks associated with foreign influence.
UCF is committed to adhering to federal and state laws and regulations related to the disclosure of financial interests and outside activities with international partners. Multiple units at UCF are available and happy to assist employees in meeting these reporting requirements. The purpose of this article is to provide some additional background related to these disclosure requirements, highlight the reporting requirements, and identify ongoing UCF efforts to better assist employees in meeting these reporting requirements. In addition to this article, a number of case specific reporting scenarios are addressed in the FAQ section of this month’s newsletter.
Why is there a concern related to financial interests and outside activities with international partners?
The U.S. Government and the Florida Legislature have expressed concerns regarding inappropriate influence by foreign entities, government, or individuals on U.S. institutions and researchers. This is commonly referred to as foreign influence.
Key concerns related to inappropriate foreign influence, include (but are not limited to):
- the failure of researchers to disclose support from outside activities or foreign organizations;
- unlawfully sharing non-public information by researchers; undisclosed significant financial conflicts of interest;
- unlawful transfer of U.S. intellectual property, data, or unpublished research results;
- unlawful transfer of research materials and samples;
- agreements with foreign entities that may impose obligations on researchers that are contrary to university policies and/or federal and state laws and regulations; and
- data security and cyberattack vulnerabilities.
One example of inappropriate foreign influence includes participation in a foreign government talent/recruitment program and failing to disclose participation in these programs in accordance with applicable federal and state laws and regulations. Such programs are generally defined as foreign state-sponsored attempts to acquire U.S. scientific-funded research or technology through foreign government-run or funded recruitment programs. Unfortunately, a number of foreign government talent/recruitment programs are intertwined with the concerns outlined above.
The above concerns impact all types of scholarly activity, including, but not limited to, research, student engagement, and intellectual property protection. Inappropriate foreign influence can have a major impact on the integrity of UCF and UCF’s ability to obtain federal funding.
What financial interests and outside activities must be disclosed?
In response to these concerns, when seeking federally funded research, many federal agencies have added, or reiterated reporting requirements related to outside activities and financial interests with foreign entities. In addition to the federal requirements, Florida State Statute 1012.977 was enacted on July 1, 2020, to also address the concerns related to inappropriate foreign influence.
Updates to UCF Regulation and Policy
In October 2020, UCF revised UCF Regulation 3.018 Conflict of Interest or Commitment; Outside Activity or Employment to include the statutory requirements in Florida State Statute 1012.977 and it was approved by the Board of Trustees that same month. Additionally, University Policy 4-504.3 Reporting Outside Activities, Financial Interests, and Potential Conflicts of Interest or Conflicts of Commitment in Research was revised and posted for public review and comment in October 2020, however, based on feedback and suggestions from faculty, it became clear that additional revisions to the proposed policy were necessary. Working with the Faculty Senate, a faculty ad hoc committee was created to assist University Compliance, Ethics, and Risk and the Office of Research, Compliance Office to edit the materials to clarify the intent of the new law, and to address the questions and concerns raised by faculty and staff members. The offices worked with the faculty ad hoc committee in December and January to revise the policy and supporting materials. Through consensus of the ad hoc committee, the policy and supplemental materials were edited, revised, and finalized, and posted again for review and comment on February 3, 2021. The policy was approved by the University Policies and Procedures Committee on February 18, 2021, and signed by the president on February 26, 2021.
Disclosures to UCF
To assist employees subject to reporting their outside activities and financial interests with foreign entities, UCF amended the online AA-21 disclosure to include a new question 12. Question 12 only applies to individuals engaged in research at UCF. The purpose of obtaining responses to this question is to provide employees the mechanism to comply with the federal and state disclosure requirements and allow UCF to evaluate whether there is a potential inappropriate foreign influence risk that requires additional review by UCF. The AA-21 disclosure is now available and employees subject to reporting using the online AA-21 were notified March 8 to submit their disclosure by April 7. For more information about what and how to disclose to UCF, please visit: https://compliance.ucf.edu/conflict-of-interest/ or contact PCA@ucf.edu.
Disclosures to U.S. federal agencies
Multiple federal agencies including, but not limited to, DOE, DOD, NSF, and NIH have reporting requirements related to foreign activities when seeking federally funded research. For DOE, DOD, and NSF, foreign activities should be disclosed within Current and Pending Support and/or the Biosketch. For NIH, foreign activities should be disclosed in Other Support, Foreign Component, Facilities and Resources, and/or the Biosketch.
What is required to be disclosed depends on the particular agency. To identify disclosure requirements related to a particular funding opportunity, individuals seeking federal funding for research should review the individual agency announcement, the funding notice, the agency guidebook, and the award terms and conditions. If you have questions regarding particular disclosure requirements, please work with your proposal manager and/or contract manager.
Please note, the failure to fully disclose foreign activities to federal agencies can have serious consequences on the ability of individuals and UCF to obtain future federal funding.
What efforts are being made by UCF to assist the UCF community in better understanding foreign influence and meeting reporting requirements?
In addition to modifying the AA-21 to include the new question dedicated to reporting outside activities and financial interests with foreign entities, UCF has created additional resources to assist UCF personnel in understanding what needs to be disclosed to UCF. See: https://compliance.ucf.edu/conflict-of-interest/ for additional resources including the new materials available this year:
- Outside Activity, Financial Interest and Potential Conflict Disclosure Matrix
- AA-21 Disclosure Guidance
- Reporting Outside Activities, Financial Interests, and Potential Conflicts Process
- Potential Outside Activity, Employment, and Conflict of Interest and Commitment Disclosure (AA-21) Tutorial
UCF has also started an educational campaign to reach out to employees regarding inappropriate foreign influence and will continue with this effort. A website is also being developed that will elaborate on the information in this article and provide additional resources related to foreign influence, including additional resources for UCF and federal reporting requirements.
Who should you contact for additional information?
- For questions regarding the AA-21 and process, please contact: PCA@ucf.edu.
- For questions regarding federal disclosure requirements, please contact your proposal manager and/or contract manager.
- For general foreign influence questions, please contact: Ashley.Guritza@ucf.edu.
Department of Defense. Sec. 1286 of the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act Initiative.
Department of Energy, 2019. DOE O 486.1, Department of Energy Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs.
Department of Energy, 2019. DOE O 142.3A Chg 2., Unclassified Foreign Visits and Assignments Program
Florida State Statute Disclosure of contracts that affect the integrity of state universities or entities; penalties. 1012.977.
National Institute of Health, 2019. Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components.
National Institute of Health, 2018. Statement on Protecting the Integrity of U.S. Biomedical Research.
National Science Foundation, 2020. Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG), June 2020.
Research.mit.edu. 2021. Foreign Engagement | MIT Office of the Vice President for Research. [online] Available at: <https://research.mit.edu/integrity-and-compliance/foreign-engagement> [Accessed March 2021].
The Under Secretary of Defense, 2019 2019. Memorandum – Actions for the Protection of Intellectual Property, Controlled Information, Key Personnel and Critical Technologies.
UF Research. 2021. Disclosing International Relationships and Activities to UF and Federal Sponsors – UF Research. [online] Available at: https://research.ufl.edu/compliance/export-controls/foreign-activities-disclosure.html [Accessed March 2021].