Foreign-government-sponsored talent recruitment programs (“talent programs”) are an effort to recruit science and technology professors, researchers, and even students, directly or indirectly organized, managed, or funded by a foreign government or institution in furtherance of the foreign nation’s economic development or national security/military goals. Individuals are often recruited without regard to citizenship or national origin, and positions may be full- or part-time. Talent programs often seek to import or otherwise acquire proprietary technology or software, unpublished data and methods, and intellectual property from abroad.
Participation in a talent program MUST be disclosed to Harvard Medical School through the Outside Activities Reporting Portal and MUST be disclosed to Federal Sponsors through Other Support Pages (NIH) or similar.
Many countries sponsor talent programs for legitimate purposes of attracting researchers in targeted fields, and many programs utilize legitimate means of attracting talent, including offering research fellowships and grants to incentivize researchers to physically relocate.
However, some programs encourage or require unethical and criminal behaviors such as:
- Creating undisclosed conflicts of commitment and/or conflicts of interest with a researcher’s obligations to his/her primary employer;
- Attributing awards, patents, publications and projects to the foreign institution, even if conducted under U.S. funding;
- Recruiting or training other talent recruitment plan members, circumventing merit-based processes; or
- Replicating or transferring U.S.-funded work to another country.
Undisclosed obligations to a talent program may have serious consequences, including prohibition of an individual from participating in federally sponsored research or lasting financial damages to the faculty member’s lab or institution. Some participation may also pose risks to U.S. national security. Talent program participants have faced charges of export-control law violations; economic espionage and theft of trade secrets; and grant and tax fraud.
Faculty are encouraged to carefully review all agreements and thoroughly vet all arrangements to ensure that they are aware of any participation in a talent program and that they have disclosed their participation in a talent program. If a faculty member is unsure about any terms, conditions or expectations related to their engagement in an outside activity with a foreign government, institution or entity, they should contact the HMS COI Team or HMS Research Compliance to assess compliance with University policy and/or their personal legal counsel for legal advice.
Problematic terms and conditions or requirements are frequently associated with talent program participation.
- FBI Public Service Announcement: Foreign Government-Sponsored Talent Recruitment Plans, such as China’s Talent Plans, Incentivize Economic Espionage and Theft of Trade Secrets
- The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy presentation June 23, 2020,“Enhancing the Security and Integrity of America’s Research Enterprise”
- Problematic Terms and Conditions for Outside Agreements
- Best Practices for Outside Agreements
- Harvard University Office of the Provost Statement on Outside Activities of Holders of Academic Appointments
*The content presented on this page was largely taken from the FBI PSA and OSTP Presentation listed in the Resources section