January 13, 2022
On January 4, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released new guidance on national security concerns surrounding federally-funded research, building on an announcement made on the final day of the Trump Administration. In an effort to create clearer and more consistent guidelines, the memo outlines basic requirements for research security policies across federal agencies,
This new directive largely focuses on disclosure requirements: creating consistency across federal agencies on what information must be disclosed; standardizing disclosure practice and enforcement; and facilitating more effective information sharing across funding agencies.
As policymakers in Washington have debated this issue, the scientific community has raised concerns that increased research security could create undue bureaucratic burdens and stifle valuable international collaborations. OSTP Director Eric Lander addressed these concerns in a foreword to the memo, saying that the guidance reflects a need “to be clear so that well-intentioned researchers can easily and properly comply, and to ensure that policies do not fuel xenophobia or prejudice.” The guidance itself references the tension between these competing concerns, while emphasizing the real threat of foreign nations looking to illicitly acquire U.S. research and technology, specifically highlighting China, Russia, and Iran.
Lander acknowledged concerns about how the federal government might use information provided in these disclosures. He wrote that the new guidelines “do not address other key questions … namely, how the government uses this information in making decisions about research funding and support. Such questions are equally important, and OSTP intends to address them in the future.” Lander added, “It is important to avoid undue, vague, and implicit pressures on researchers, as this could create a chilling atmosphere that would only constrain and damage the U.S. scientific enterprise.”
The memo does not provide specific tools that agencies must use to collect researcher disclosures. Instead, the White House directs federal agencies to collaborate over the next four months to develop “model grant application forms and instructions that can be used (and adapted where required) by any federal research funding agency.”
For additional analysis, see the coverage available from Science Magazine. FABBS will continue to track this process and engage with federal policymakers as appropriate. We will share future updates in our newsletter.