Historically, UGA has almost exclusively engaged in “fundamental research” as defined in National Security Decision Directive 189:
“‘Fundamental research’ means basic and applied research in science and engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary or national security reasons.”
Fundamental research will not include export controlled technical data, contractual restrictions on dissemination of research results, contractual prohibitions on the participation of foreign nationals, controlled unclassified information, or classified information. The foregoing types of projects can be considered restricted research.
The federal government has expressed concerns over the last few years about the security of fundamental research in relation to undue foreign influence. The NSPM-33 Research Security Program aims to improve the security of all federally funded research through its agency mandated requirements.
Fundamental Research Security
In 2019, the National Science Foundation’s independent advisory group JASON, released a “Fundamental Research Security” report. JASON assesses that a powerful countermeasure against undue foreign influence would be the careful consideration of foreign engagements by stakeholders before they are initiated. For a principal investigator (PI) considering engaging with a foreign research entity, such a series of questions might be:
- Describe the engagement succinctly and without jargon. Is it fundamental research? If not, what are the institution’s policies around creating the engagement?
- Are the terms of the engagement made clear in writing? Have all the participants been identified? Are all participants known to the PI and the PI’s institution?
- Are all the participants conflicts of interest and commitment documented?
- Are there any aspects of the engagement that are not to be disclosed to any of the participants? If so, what is the reason?
- Is there any aspect of the engagement that seems unusual, unnecessary, or poorly specified?
- Where does the funding and other resources needed for the activity come from? Is it clear what each party is providing?
- Are all the tangible assets of the engagement, existing or to be generated (e.g., data, metadata, profits, equipment, etc.), known? How will they be shared? Who decides how they are allocated?
- How does a participant end their engagement?
- Are scholars expected to reside away from their home institutions as a part of the engagement? If so, how are they chosen for participation in the engagement?
- What are the reporting requirements back to home institutions or organizations?
- Who will control the dissemination of the resulting fundamental research?
While the above assessment is not required of UGA PI’s, it is a useful consideration prior to beginning a potential foreign research engagement. These questions can be thought of as an assessment tool, meant to develop a fuller understanding of the engagement before a decision is made. DARPA, for example, has developed a rubric for assessing projects it funds based on Risk-Based Measures to Assess Potential Undue Foreign Influence Conflicts of Interest or Conflicts of Commitment.
ORSEC may consider a similar set of questions when reviewing sponsored research that involves foreign collaboration or foreign funding. An example, developed by the MIT Office of the Vice President for Research, would include the following considerations:
- Is there a risk to U.S. national security?
- What are the political, civil, and human rights risks?
- Is there a risk to U.S. national competitiveness?
- Will export control compliance be assured?
- What are the intellectual property risks?
- Are there clear data and publication policies?
- What is the early termination risk?
- What is misrepresentation risk?
- Is there a risk to the institution’s community and core values?
- What is the risk to institution of not engaging?