University-Industry Engagement Week

DARPA reveals how it will implement the Countering Foreign Influence Program, foreshadowing approaches of other federal funding agencies

By David Schwartz
Published: March 22nd, 2022

A new analysis from the law firm Ropes & Gray examines the recently released “Countering Foreign Influence Program (CFIP)” from the the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense.

While the federal government recently ended the China Initiative, which took a hard-line approach to research relationships with Chinese entities, the implementation of CFIP and its “risk algorithm” approach to assessing funding proposals “serves as a reminder that the disclosure of foreign relationships, commitments, and funding is still a key factor for federal funding agencies in awarding grants and contracts. Accordingly, research institutions should be mindful of having proper policies and procedures in place to ensure that faculty are properly disclosing all foreign (as well as domestic) funding and relationships when applying for federal funding of research activities,” the law firm cautions.

The DARPA risk algorithm assesses the level of risk posed by a DARPA researcher’s relationship with a foreign institution, weighing and scoring all information disclosed in funding applications, with a specific focus on the senior/key person’s activities from the past four years. The assessment focuses particularly on:

  • Participation in a foreign talents program;
  • Any relationship with an entity on the U.S. government’s denied entity or person list, or an entity sanctioned by the U.S. as defined in a 2020 executive order that focused on Chinese companies with suspected ties to China’s military, such as Huawei;
  • Funding received from “a foreign government or a foreign government-connected entity of a strategic competitor or [a country with a history of targeting U.S. technologies];” and
  • Any relationship with a “high-risk foreign government, or foreign government-connected, institution or entity.”

One of these factors alone is not necessarily a bar to funding. Rather, funding applications receive one of four scores: Low risk; Moderate risk; High risk; or Very High risk, with decisions on funding risk – and ultimately the funding itself, made accordingly.

Low or moderate risk applications generally require no further action or review. High risk applications may mean the institution involved must prepare a plan to address and mitigate the potential risk – for example, by removing the Senior/Key Person from the funding application. Very high risk scores automatically require a mitigation plan. Those mitigation plans can bring the risk down to a Low or Moderate rating. DARPA may also ultimately decide not to award the grant or contract, either because the risk remains to great or the changes to the application affects the proposals capabilities

Ropes & Gray concluded that “while the DARPA CFIP risk-based algorithm is limited to DARPA-funded research, it provides insight and transparency into how federal funding agencies may view and weigh a researcher’s past and present foreign relationships, and we expect to see similar types of guidance from other funding agencies as the agencies begin to implement National Security Presidential Memorandum 33 (NSPM-33) with respect to government-supported research.”

They suggest research institutions use the CFIP algorithm “as an internal guide to assist with developing their own conflict of interest and other disclosure-related research policies and procedures,” and as a tool to assess their researchers’ potential for foreign influence risk.

Source: Ropes & Gray

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week