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GAO Urges Better Coordination on Screening Federal Funding for Foreign Research Projects

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A Government Accountability Office study has identified gaps in evaluating federal funding for foreign research projects that could bring risks to U.S. national security. While awarding agencies generally blacklist foreign terrorist groups and specially designated persons and entities, the GAO study showed that government databases on blacklisted groups and individuals lack standard identifying information, such as a physical address or a date of birth.

The agency cited as an example the federal funding data source USAspending.gov, which does not have records such as birthdates and phone numbers, data that were already gathered by federal funding agencies.

Such a gap constrains cross-matching foreign entities on some lists with recipients of government-wide funding, GAO said.

The agency also found that awarding agencies do not use the same set of tools to screen research funding applicants. Respondents on the GAO study said they need more guidance on evaluating whether an applying organization is foreign-owned.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy, the lead federal body for interagency science and technology policy coordination, issued a recent guidance, but it did not address the concerns on foreign control and influence, GAO shared. It recommended that OSTP facilitate information-sharing on research applicants’ foreign backgrounds to help protect federal funds.

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