Improper Influence in Federally Funded Fundamental Research

By Lisa Ide , Karen Lee , Brittni Fine , Christopher Moeller , Daniela Silitra, Ph.D. , Jodi Simco, Ph.D. , Alex Sisti , Adam Terragnoli

Findings and recommendations to increase resiliency to improper foreign government influence, improve the ability to identify, counter, and deter risks, and maintain core principles and values in the federal fundamental research grants community.

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Great Power competition has expanded the range of concerns and the level of risk for the integrity of federally funded fundamental research. While international collaboration adds value in many ways to the scientific enterprise, it also creates the possibility for improper foreign government influence, ranging from the misdirection of research to the actual theft of data and ideas. The federally funded fundamental research enterprise (F3RE), consisting of funded research scientists, the universities at which they work, federal grantmaking agencies, and federal oversight and enforcement entities, seeks to become more resilient to improper foreign influence by improving its ability to:

  • Identify improper foreign government influence risks to federally funded fundamental research.
  • Employ effective tools and processes to counter improper foreign government influence.
  • Take an integrated approach to resist improper foreign government influence on federally funded fundamental research while balancing it with the need to maintain the core principles and values of the enterprise, and continue to attract the best and brightest students and researchers to the U.S.

The MITRE Corporation conducted interviews with 157 individuals in 65 interview sessions over eight weeks in July and August 2020. Interview participants represented a variety of F3RE stakeholders, including 19 universities and eight federal agencies. These interviews identified areas of consensus across the F3RE, “gray areas” of uncertainty, the barriers to improvement, and a variety of concrete proposals. The findings and recommendations in this report are partly what MITRE heard in these interviews, and partly the results of MITRE analysis based on the content of these interviews.

During this study, MITRE:

  • Applied systems engineering approaches, frameworks, and models to the problem space.
  • Leveraged MITRE’s unique role as an operator of federally funded research and development centers (FFRDC) to engage stakeholders across government, academia, and non-governmental organizations.
  • Expanded on the findings of previous reports by:
    • Directly engaging new and existing stakeholders to collect data.
    • Deconstructing the actions, reactions and behaviors that have made this problem difficult to solve.

MITRE recommends four courses of action (COA) to address foundational gaps that challenge stakeholders’ ability to identify, counter, and deter improper foreign influence risk. In parallel, MITRE recommends a set of nine metrics and indicators to track the impact and effectiveness of these and other COAs over time.