Watchdog presses NIH over foreign funding disclosures

The oversight office for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report Tuesday that found a majority of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) grant recipients failed to meet federal requirements regarding foreign financial interests and support.

HHS’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that more than two-thirds of grantees — 69 percent — who conducted NIH-funded research failed to meet at least one federal requirement on disclosing foreign financial interests, and many also lacked oversight that would ensure the materials they submit to NIH are accurate and complete.

In one instance, the OIG found that NIH-funded investigators had failed to disclose grants they had received from the Chinese government.

The report stated it is the responsibility of grantees to ensure that foreign financial interests are disclosed. OIG found that grant recipients did not require their researchers to disclose grants, professional affiliations or participation in foreign government programs despite recent reminders from NIH to do so.

However, the report acknowledged that the recipients of certain grants may have been unaware that they were subject to specific federal requirements and many — nearly 3 out of 4 — lacked the training or guidance on disclosing foreign support.

As the OIG noted, NIH awarded $31 billion worth of grants in fiscal 2020.

“The lack of full disclosure of investigators’ foreign financial interests and support limits grantees’ and NIH’s ability to perform reviews and ensure protection from potential undue foreign influence,” the report stated.

The OIG issued a series of recommendations to counteract this lack of disclosure, including reviewing the training requirements of grant recipients during site visits and requiring researchers to certify that they have completed the requirements of their grants.

The oversight office also recommended that NIH advise grant recipients and issue reminders on their responsibilities regarding financial interests.

The Hill has reached out to NIH and HHS for comment.


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