International Engagement

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

I am afraid to disclose international activities because it might make me a target for government scrutiny. What should I do?

We understand the concern, but it is always better to disclose than to have a federal sponsor discover non-disclosure. Federal agencies are increasing use of data analytics and open-source searches to proactively identify undisclosed Current & Pending (Other) Support and affiliations with international entities, so non-disclosure is not a means to avoid, and may in fact increase, government scrutiny.

Will U-M defend me if the government takes legal action against me for noncompliance with the federal rules and regulations that apply to engaging in U-M international research?

It is the University’s policy (see SPG 601.09) to defend (pay legal expenses) and indemnify (pay settlement or judgment) employees who become parties to legal proceedings by virtue of their good faith efforts to perform their responsibilities of employment. The University has this policy so employees don’t need to worry about covering their expenses, which can be significant, if they become involved in a legal proceeding in the course of performing the duties of their employment. It is important to the University that faculty and staff members approach their research and other responsibilities carefully and within the appropriate legal, compliance and ethical framework, and if they do, they should feel comfortable that the University will stand behind them if they are involved in an investigation.

If there are problems or concerns identified with a disclosure that do not rise to the level of a legal proceeding, the relevant offices (Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP), Research Security, Conflict of Interest (COI), Departments, etc.) would work to review and correct whatever the potential problem may be. This could involve updated documentation that needs to be submitted to sponsors, updated disclosures needed in the U-M systems, or other actions.

I am on a 9-month academic year appointment. Why do I need to provide contracts to the (National Institutes of Health) NIH involving my activities during the summer months?

NIH requires this information to assess whether there are any conflicts of interest or commitment or any scientific, budgetary, or effort overlap between the work it intends to fund and your outside activities, including during the summer months. This is especially important when you are requesting summer months’ salary in your NIH proposal. NIH requires the associated contracts for verification purposes.

Are investigations into disclosure concerns being handled consistently across all faculty and countries?

U-M carefully reviews all disclosures that involve an international component, regardless of the country involved. Federal investigations have focused on Chinese foreign talent recruitment programs. This is due to a combination of China’s increased recruiting efforts and contract terms that resulted in non-disclosure, overcommitment, or duplication of some U.S. federally funded projects. In addition, China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran were designated foreign countries of concern in the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 and have been subject to increased sanctions. U.S. concerns persist with respect to Chinese talent recruitment programs and professional affiliations (e.g., work for a Chinese university), particularly in areas involving military or dual-use research or critical and emerging technologies.

What are the guidelines we should follow if we are involved in or offered a contract with an international partner (e.g., a talent program or employment contract)? What are the consequences?

When faculty pursue outside activities, such as consulting or other contracts, it is important to make sure that all University policies are being followed – including policies related to use of University resources, intellectual property and data. It also includes making sure that all disclosure obligations of these outside activities are met, including those related to intuitional disclosures, Current & Pending (Other) Support and potential Conflicts of Commitment (COCs) and/or Conflicts of Interest (COIs). Depending on the proposed activity, COI and/or COC management may be needed.

If you are considering an outside activity with an international partner and have questions about whether to engage or if it is in compliance with U-M policy, it is important to reach out for help. Generally speaking, engaging with an international partner via private contract as an outside activity is permissible, so long as that activity is approved by your unit, appropriately disclosed to the institutional and federal sponsors, as needed, and all U-M policies are followed.

It is also important to note that some federal research sponsors – including the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense – that fund military or critical and emerging technology research may find these kinds of private contracts and engagements of risk. This could result in denial of an award or not being eligible to receive funding from those agencies if the agency determines the risks have not been satisfactorily managed or mitigated. This is particularly true for foreign countries of concern (Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea per the CHIPS Act).

 

If you are considering participating in a talent program or employment contract with a foreign government or entity, and/or have questions about potential impacts on federal funding or whether they may cause COIs/COCs that violate U-M policies, it is important to reach out to the appropriate teams at U-M for help navigating that space. For questions about potential engagement in an international outside activity or an associated contract, email InternationalResearchGuidance@umich.edu. For questions about Current & Pending (Other) Support disclosures, email Other-Support-Questions@umich.edu. For questions about COI policy, outside interest disclosure, or COI review and management processes, email COI.Support@umich.edu.

Should faculty collaborate or do anything with China?

Faculty can continue to collaborate with colleagues in China if the collaboration is consistent with U-M and sponsor policy and is disclosed appropriately. If faculty receive funding from agencies such as the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DoE) and/or work in areas involving military or dual use research or critical and emerging technologies, care should be taken when entering into these engagements. Formal or paid affiliations with Chinese entities are likely to receive more scrutiny from U.S. agencies, as is funding from the Chinese government. U.S. agencies may also consider the engagements of your collaborators (e.g., co-authors), not just yours, when assessing research security risks, particularly in defense areas (i.e., DoD funded research). U-M staff can help faculty determine whether the activity complies with policies or may raise red flags with some federal agencies.  As faculty members consider entering into these activities, we encourage them to reach out to InternationalResearchGuidance@umich.edu with any questions.

I am concerned that filing foreign patents may result in extra scrutiny. Should I avoid doing so to reduce the potential of raising a red flag?

Agencies are most concerned with U.S. funded research being patented in other countries. Federal agencies are looking at foreign patents, their relationship to U.S. funded research, and where the patent was first filed. An example of this is the Department of Defense matrix (Table  2) and factors for assessing senior/key person’s (“covered individual’s”) associations, affiliations, collaborations, and funding, which notes the following for possible rejection of a research proposal and required mitigation: “Patent application(s) or patent(s) not disclosed in proposal, that resulted from research funded by the U.S. Government, that were filed in a foreign country of concern [FCOC – China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran per the CHIPS and Science Act] prior to filing in the U.S. or filed on behalf of an FCOC entity”.   

What are the consequences for failing to follow relevant disclosure requirements?

The most important thing you can do is understand and adhere to the disclosure requirements and avail yourself of the resources available to support you. The consequences for not following the disclosure requirements are decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on factors like the seriousness of the violation, the impact, whether it was unintentional or intentional, and other similar factors.

With respect to consequences beyond the University, federal sponsoring agencies may pursue additional actions. Note that false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or claims (including omissions) to federal sponsors may result in criminal or civil enforcement actions.

As a faculty member with an academic year appointment, what business is it of U-M or federal sponsors to know what I do during my free time or who I spend my time with?

In addition to potential conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, concerns include overlap or duplication of U.S. funded research, unauthorized transfer of unpublished U.S. research data, methodology, and intellectual property, and overcommitment on U.S. funded projects due to engagement in undisclosed international activities. The unit Conflict of Interest/Conflict of Commitment implementation policies and expectations and procedures for faculty and staff are set out in SPG 201.65-1.In particular, the SPG provides in part that:

Faculty and staff members have the right to acquire and retain outside interests that do not conflict with University interests or with the individual employee’s commitment to the University…

Faculty and staff members must meet the specific responsibilities and professional activities that constitute their appropriate [University] commitments…

All faculty and staff members must disclose all actual or potential conflicts of interest or conflicts of commitment…as potential conflicts arise or are identified.

In addition, when sponsored funding or technology transfer is involved, a faculty or staff member must disclose actual or potential conflicts of interest or commitment to the appropriate research conflict of interest committee…

A faculty or staff member must also provide additional relevant information concerning disclosed or undisclosed matters as may be requested…

If required, [the University] will develop a [management] plan in consultation with the faculty or staff member…

Where is U-M’s responsibility in getting faculty disclosures right?

U-M has policies and procedures in place to help ensure that faculty disclosures related to funding applications submitted through U-M are accurate and complete. This includes the U-M policies requiring faculty disclosures related to outside activities and Current & Pending (Other) Support. We must rely on our investigators who have direct knowledge of their Current & Pending (Other) Support and outside activities to fully disclose, so that we can help ensure that those disclosures are appropriately reflected in what is submitted to sponsors.

The University also provides resources and guidance to help faculty navigate disclosure obligations and offers assistance for faculty-specific situations. Many of these resources are linked on the OVPR International Engagement webpage. See the page Disclosure: Transparent Reporting of International Affiliations and Support for more information.

I regularly engage in activities with international entities where I receive an honorarium for my efforts. What must I report to U-M and to a federal agency as Current and Pending (Other) Support for each of the following circumstances: (a) I give a talk at a university in another country, (b) I review a research center in another country, (c) I review a research proposal from another country, (d) I edit an international journal that is based in another country.

In each circumstance the activity and accompanying honorarium must be disclosed in M-Inform, the University’s centralized electronic disclosure system, as an outside activity; however, these activities do not need to be disclosed in Current and Pending (Other) Support as they do not support your research. It is U-M’s longstanding requirement to disclose the honorarium in M-Inform if it was received within the past 12 months and within 30 days of any new activities. Honoraria payments older than that may be disclosed at the investigator’s discretion.

The University also provides resources and guidance to help faculty navigate disclosure obligations and offers assistance for faculty-specific situations. Many of these resources are linked on the OVPR International Engagement webpage. See the page Disclosure: Transparent Reporting of International Affiliations and Support for more information.

What is the process for correcting innocent mistakes in the disclosure process?

If the mistake was made while disclosing outside activities to the institution, the investigator needs to update their internal disclosure form with the correct information. If the mistake needs to be corrected on sponsor documentation (e.g., Biosketch or Current & Pending (Other) Support), the investigator should notify  Other-Support-Reporting@umich.edu for further guidance. Depending on the specifics of what has not been disclosed, the information may need to be reported immediately to the relevant grants management specialist and/or program officer via ORSP or may simply need to be included in the next annual Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR).

The University also provides resources and guidance to help faculty navigate disclosure obligations and offers assistance for faculty-specific situations. Many of these resources are linked on the OVPR International Engagement webpage. See the page Disclosure: Transparent Reporting of International Affiliations and Support for more information.

What should I do if I’m contacted by a law enforcement agency?

If U-M faculty or staff are contacted by law enforcement seeking U-M documents, U-M property, or otherwise relating to the University or their role at the University, they should contact campus law enforcement and the Office of General Counsel (OGC), who will guide them on next steps. Additional details and campus-specific contact information are available in this FAQ on the U-M OGC website.

Can we anticipate other federal agencies will implement requirements similar to those of NIH for Current and Pending (Other) Support reporting?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has also updated and clarified the agency’s Current & Pending (Other) Support instructions and forms. NIH and NSF have aligned requirements. In November 2023, common Current & Pending (Other) Support and Biosketch forms were published for federal-wide use. Individual agencies will need to implement the forms in the coming months. In addition, agencies may sign on for federal-wide use of the pre-and post-award disclosure table that reflects recent changes to disclosure forms and instructions.

As a faculty member, I would appreciate a grace period for correcting errors and discrepancies in my disclosures.

We would welcome a grace period as well but could only grant a grace period if the federal agencies’ policies and regulations afforded us the opportunity to do so.  Agency-specific information on post-award requirements regarding errors and discrepancies can be found on the Federal Agency-Specific Research Security Activities, Policies, and Requirements webpage. If a recipient discovers Other Support information on an active NIH grant that should have been, but was not, disclosed during just-in-time or in an annual progress report, updated Other Support must be submitted to the Grants Management Specialist as soon as the undisclosed information is known. For NSF, the undisclosed information must be submitted by an ORSP representative within 30 calendar days of identification.

How does U-M engage with federal law enforcement?

U-M fully cooperates with federal law enforcement agencies and would inform researchers of an investigation if the facts and circumstances of the situation allowed the University to do so.

Are there any key elements that should be incorporated into research projects (and their associated data use agreements) involving sites that must adhere to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?

If you are planning a research project that involves sites subject to GDPR, it is important to work with the applicable IRB and ORSP to ensure that all needed documentation is in place for compliance.

Does U-M value, support, encourage and advocate for collaboration with Chinese colleagues in China?

U-M supports all collaborations that are compliant with U-M and federal sponsor policies. In addition, our federal relations team has been actively engaged with federal policymakers to safeguard and protect university research enterprises and the international collaborations that have made this nation a global leader in innovation. We must note that the People’s Republic of China has been deemed a foreign country of concern by the U.S. Government via the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 and that some federal research sponsors – including DoD and DoE – that fund military, dual-use, or critical and emerging technology research may find some engagements of risk. This could result in denial of an award if the agency determines the risks have not been satisfactorily managed or mitigated. Generally speaking, professional associations and affiliations present greater concern to agencies than basic collaborative activities with Chinese colleagues.

We operate Limited Data Set registries in our work group. We are encountering issues with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. What items are critical to getting a functional agreement? Is Date of Birth allowed? Is consent necessary?

It is difficult to give specific advice for a particular research project. There are contexts when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does require consent, and contexts in which date of birth information could be used for research. The key to ensuring a functional agreement that is compliant with GDPR is to reach out for help from the central offices. Both IRBMED and IRB-HSBS have GDPR information available on their website, as well as the U-M ITS Safe Computing site. ORSP will also help to put needed agreements in place related to Data Use.

Other universities have trained people to help faculty fill out the forms. What has U-M done to aid faculty or to offer consultations to faculty while they fill out their forms. Can we have a contact of who we can call to walk us through this?

Research Integrity and Compliance staff are trained and always available to answer questions regarding proper disclosure and forms.  For questions about COI policy, outside interest disclosure, or COI review and management processes, email COI.Support@umich.edu.

For questions about Current & Pending (Other) Support or Biosketch disclosures, email Other-Support-Questions@umich.edu. For questions about potential engagement in an international outside activity or an associated contract, email InternationalResearchGuidance@umich.edu.

NIH’s guidance and process for disclosing is confusing. Where should faculty go to seek assistance?

NIH, NSF, and other federal agencies have been working to clarify and align disclosure requirements and processes to reduce confusion. Information on where to find disclosure resources can be found on the disclosure webpage. U-M Research Integrity and Compliance staff are always available to help, just email or call them. For questions about Current & Pending (Other) Support or Biosketch disclosures, email Other-Support-Questions@umich.edu. In addition, COI staff are available for one-on-one consultations any time throughout the year to assist in the M-Inform disclosure process (email COI.Support@umich.edu).

Other universities have been vocal about the importance of international, students, scholars, and collaborators. What has U-M done publicly?

You can include U-M in the category of universities that have been vocal on these issues. University leaders, including the Vice President for Research and Innovation, have publicly supported our international students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty, and emphasized the role these scholars have played in enriching our institution through teaching, learning, research, and impact on society.

How is U-M present on the national stage to provide a voice in shaping national dialogue on academic freedom, national security, and anti-Asian actions. What are we doing nationally?

The office of federal relations is actively working with national associations on these issues. The office, located in Washington, DC, advocates for and supports the university on all federal issues that impact our ability to educate and conduct research. We do this by working closely with key congressional members in the Michigan delegation and staff working on committees with relevant jurisdiction. Over the years, the university has become a trusted resource for congressional staff working on research and security issues and has been a leader among our university colleagues.

How do you define "international entity"? Are domestic affiliates of foreign companies "international"?

An international entity is one located outside of the United States (U.S.).  “International” in this context does not refer to a U.S. entity that does business internationally (e.g., not General Motors), but rather an entity that is formed outside the United States. If an investigator signs a contract/agreement with a U.S. subsidiary of an international “parent” company, the U.S. subsidiary is not considered an international entity.

NIH and NSF have publicly announced their requirements and policies, but what about DoD?

The DoD released Countering Unwanted Foreign Influence in DoD funded Research at Institutions of Higher Education on June 30, 2023. The document includes:

  • A Policy on Risk-based Security Reviews of Fundamental Research,
  • An associated Decision Matrix to Inform Fundamental Research Proposal Mitigation,
  • A list of foreign institutions identified by DoD as engaging in problematic activity, and
  • A list of foreign talent recruitment programs identified by DoD as posing a threat to U.S. national security interests.

The policy is part of the Department’s effort to counter unwanted foreign influence in, and misappropriation of, DoD-funded research to the detriment of national or economic security.

 

In addition, common disclosure forms intended for federal-wide implementation were finalized in November 2023 and will be adopted by agencies in the coming months:

The forms were developed by the Research Security Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to reduce variance in reporting requirements across federal research funding agencies. The NSF is serving as a steward of the forms and information. A Pre- and Post-award Disclosure Table intended for adoption and use across federal agencies is available on the NSF website here. The table is intended to provide clarity and consistency on what, where, and when information must be disclosed.  NSF, NIH, DoD, and NASA have indicated that the Departments/agencies will use the common forms. Other agencies are expected to follow suit.

Who reviews information about disclosed activities? Who decides whether they are problematic?

Investigator disclosures in M-Inform are reviewed by COI staff in the Research Integrity and Compliance unit or the Medical School Office of Regulatory Affairs, who have been trained to recognize potentially problematic activities.

My understanding was that all faculty at U-M needed to fill out a Conflict of Commitment form each year, whether or not they are on a current PAF. Are only researchers with a PAF required to disclose?

All faculty must report all conflicts of interest and commitment to their schools/colleges and/or departments, which could include disclosing in M-Inform. However, faculty who are listed on PAFs and/or Awards (AWDs) must also disclose in M-Inform because of University and funding sponsor requirements.

Would PI travel outside of the U.S. solely to attend/present at conferences constitute a foreign component for NIH sponsored research projects?

No. Travel outside the U.S. to attend/present at a conference would not constitute a “significant scientific element or segment” of the project. However, if you receive an honorarium from either a domestic or foreign entity to present at the conference, this needs to be disclosed in M-Inform.

Should a completed relationship be reported to federal sponsors? What if the person was a visiting scholar two years ago when they were on sabbatical, but they are not currently a visiting scholar?

The instructions for the Biographical Sketch Common Form indicate that “[s]enior/key persons must only identify all domestic and foreign professional appointments and positions outside of the primary organization for a period up to three years [emphasis added] from the date the applicant submits the application to the agency for funding consideration.”

Is it a "foreign component" for an NIH sponsored research project if I am temporarily relocating to a foreign country and conduct some research while there (not requiring any foreign equipment, space, etc.)?

Generally speaking, if research on an NIH project is being performed outside the U.S., then it is a foreign component. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and seek prior approval from NIH, as all foreign components require pre-approval by the NIH.

Additionally, working from a foreign country can present a number of legal, tax, export control and other unique concerns depending on the specific circumstances. Refer to the HR website on remote work for additional details and requirements for establishing a remote work agreement.

Do I need to report service as a reviewer or a guest lecturer (over zoom) for an entity in China? This seems to be something that needs to be on a Conflict of Commitment form. Does it count as a foreign appointment for the purposes of a PAF/grant application?

U-M’s understanding of agency guidance is that service as a grant reviewer or guest lecturer does not need to be included in a federal proposal as a foreign appointment, provided that such service is not related to having a position, scientific appointment, or other affiliation with the entity for whom the service is being provided. Depending on the circumstances (e.g., you receive an honorarium for your service), you may need to report this outside activity in M-Inform.

Should my Current & Pending (Other) Support documentation include Collegiate professorship support, Department support such as computer funds, or other types of U-M internal support?

If the internal funds are allocated toward a specific project, that project and the associated internal funds would need be reported as Current and Pending (Other) Support.

How do we deal with active sharing of data and information online between U.S. entities and international collaborators?

With respect to collaborating with a research partner in another county, which would include sharing research data online, if this is a sponsored project, a question to consider is whether the collaboration was approved as part of the original funded proposal or if it requires prior agency approval. Once agency approval is obtained, the investigators and/or their respective institutions may wish to establish a Data Transfer and Use Agreement to clarify rights and responsibilities regarding the shared data.

In the event the collaboration involves data or other technology that may be subject to export restrictions, please refer to the Research Integrity and Compliance Export Controls webpage for additional information.

What has the University done to directly work with funding agencies to reduce the administrative burden of new disclosure requirements?

U-M works with national organizations such as the Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the Council on Government Relations (COGR), among others, including federal agencies via the Federal Demonstration Partnership and other forums, on issues related to federal disclosure requirements. The University also works directly with key White House officials when, and if, appropriate.

If a foreign entity would like to license U-M patents and work with faculty to establish a startup, given the current environment, is this encouraged by the University?

There are ways that this activity can be managed that are compliant with federal laws and regulations. Innovation Partnerships is available to help you navigate this process.

If I travel to another country to give a seminar, and the host institution reimburses my travel costs and there is no honorarium, do I need to disclose this in M-Inform?

Yes. Travel paid or reimbursed by a foreign entity, including academic and healthcare institutions, governments, companies, or non-profits must be reported as an outside activity in M-Inform for any dollar amount.  See Outside Activity Disclosure Guidance for more information on what to report.

About honoraria received when giving a lecture, reviewing a research institute, or reviewing a proposal from another country, are the U-M disclosure rules new or long-standing? If long-standing, should we report such honoraria retroactively?

The requirement to report honoraria received from international entities is a longstanding requirement.  Honoraria must be disclosed in M-Inform if they were received within the past 12 months and within 30 days of a new activity. Honoraria payments older than that may be disclosed at the investigator’s discretion.

I understand that copies of contracts with an international entity need to be provided to NIH if disclosed in Current & Pending (Other) Support. But what if I'm receiving support from an international entity and there is no contract to document this fact (e.g., the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences is giving me access to one of their labs to do research over the summer). Does anything need to be uploaded to NIH?

All forms of support for your research must be disclosed, even if there is no formal contract. In those cases, copies of email exchanges, letters of invitation, and similar informal communications will suffice.  Note that both the original and an English translated copy of supporting documentation must be provided.  Machine translations (e.g., Google Translate) of this documentation is acceptable.

The level of detail and required knowledge is immense. How can U-M faculty who specialize in other topics for their work and research be expected to navigate the complex, daunting and ever-changing set of rules and regulations?

We don’t expect faculty to know all the answers. Research Integrity and Compliance staff do know them, however, or know where to find the answers. We hope, therefore, that by providing faculty and their local research administrators with access to U-M and federal guidance and offering consulting services, faculty will know enough to ask the right questions and reach out for assistance as needed.

For questions about COI policy, outside interest disclosure, or COI review and management processes, email COI.Support@umich.edu

For questions about C&P/other support disclosures, email Other-Support-Questions@umich.edu

For questions about potential engagement in an international outside activity or an associated contract, email InternationalResearchGuidance@umich.edu.

I understand that copies of contracts with an international entity need to be provided to NIH if disclosed in Current & Pending (Other) Support. But what if I'm receiving support from an international entity and there is no contract to document this fact (e.g., the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences is giving me access to one of their labs to do research over the summer). Does anything need to be uploaded to NIH?

All forms of support for your research must be disclosed, even if there is no formal contract. In those cases, copies of email exchanges, letters of invitation, and similar informal communications will suffice.  Note that both the original and an English translated copy of supporting documentation must be provided.  Machine translations (e.g., Google Translate) of this documentation is acceptable.

I understand that copies of contracts with an international entity need to be provided to NIH if disclosed in Current & Pending (Other) Support. But what if I'm receiving support from an international entity and there is no contract to document this fact (e.g., the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences is giving me access to one of their labs to do research over the summer). Does anything need to be uploaded to NIH?

All forms of support for your research must be disclosed, even if there is no formal contract. In those cases, copies of email exchanges, letters of invitation, and similar informal communications will suffice.  Note that both the original and an English translated copy of supporting documentation must be provided.  Machine translations (e.g., Google Translate) of this documentation is acceptable.