The Government Accountability Office has recommended that federal agencies ensure that their conflicts of interest policies address non-financial COI and come up with written procedures to address cases in which researchers failed to divulge required information to help protect U.S. research programs from foreign influence.
GAO assessed the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA and the departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE) for its December 2020 report and found that only three have agency-wide COI policies.
Although NSF, NIH and NASA have agency-wide COI policies in place, those policies do not address non-financial interests.
“In the absence of agency-wide COI policies and definitions for non-financial interests, researchers may not fully understand what they need to report on their grant proposals, leaving agencies with incomplete information to assess the risk of foreign influence,” the GAO report reads.
The congressional watchdog found that the agencies were collaborating with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on initiatives to safeguard federally funded research initiatives.
As of September, OSTP is developing guidance to protect federal research programs from foreign influence and is expected to issue the document in November.