Go back

US research scrutiny ‘has spilled over to all foreign collaborations’

Image: Rachel Magee for Research Professional News

Earma 2023: European researchers warned of increasing US rules for collaboration, including ban on Huawei

The US government’s scrutiny of research collaboration is not just focused on China, but rather has “spilled over” into all foreign cooperation, an expert has warned European research managers.

A “staggering” amount of new US federal policy has been introduced in recent years, said US federal grants lawyer William Ferreira (pictured), with the government wanting to know extensive information about all foreign research partners in US-funded projects.

While much attention has been paid to China—with some research institutions in the US cutting their ties with the country—Ferreira told delegates at the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators annual conference in Prague on 26 April that the level of scrutiny also affects other non-US countries.

A European research institution that receives funding from the US government is not allowed to spend any of that money on equipment from Chinese companies Huawei or ZTE, for example. If they do, they have to return the money to the US government, Ferreira said.

‘Unprecedented change’

“There [has been] something unprecedented happening over the past few years in US government-funded research,” he told the conference.

“The government has gone to extreme lengths to better understand the volume at which, the pace at which and the terms with which US institutions are collaborating with foreign institutions.”

There is bipartisan support for this, as politicians are concerned about inappropriate foreign influence on government-funded research, Ferreira said.

“A lot of [the focus] has been on China—there is a cold war going on between the US and China,” he said. “ Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” 

But he added: “It is not just China—this has spilled over to all foreign collaborations that the US is involved in.”

Particular concerns

Ferreira explained that the government is particularly concerned about researchers’ conflicts of interest and failure to disclose collaborations, appointments and affiliations abroad.

“The US government want[s] to know about all of this,” he said. “They want full disclosure about all of your research endeavours and initiatives, even if it is not being funded by the US government. You have to disclose everything.”

With conflicts of commitment, for example, the government wants knowledge of all honorary and professional appointments regardless of whether they are paid.

The US Department of Justice has prosecuted academics in the US for failing to disclose funding from China, Ferreira pointed out.

He said the government’s stance on scrutinising research collaboration needs to be “taken really seriously now”.

Research Professional News is media partner for the Earma 2023 conference in Prague. Read all of the coverage here.