February 06,2019

HHS OIG Responds to Grassley Inquiry: NIH Referred 12 Allegations of Noncompliance in Research Projects, Primarily Involve Failure to Disclose Foreign Affiliations

 WASHINGTON – In response to an inquiry from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the National Institutes of Health has recently referred for investigation a dozen allegations of noncompliance related to medical research. The inspector general noted that these referrals primarily dealt with the failure of principal researchers to disclose foreign affiliations. In addition, the inspector general noted that it has recently initiated evaluations to assess NIH’s vetting and oversight process related to research integrity and has initiated audits relating to NIH’s award process, including its process for assessing the potential risk of grant recipients. 

“Foreign threats to our taxpayer-funded research and American intellectual property must be taken seriously. The inspector general’s diligent work is a testament to that and further congressional oversight will provide some much-needed transparency to make sure these concerns don’t fall by the wayside. These projects can produce important breakthroughs for patients and industry, keeping America at the cutting edge. I intend to continue scrutinizing this area so taxpayers get their money’s worth when funding this research and foreign actors can’t pilfer the good work done by legitimate researchers,” Grassley said. 

In a letter and enclosures, Inspector General Daniel Levinson details how his office interfaces with NIH and other agencies to protect the integrity of research programs along with an accounting of the number allegations handled in recent years. Levinson also notes that his office has referred two cases to the Justice Department for prosecution: one involving theft of intellectual property and one involving undisclosed foreign government funding. The letter from the inspector general comes in response to a January 18 letter from Grassley. 

Grassley has also pressed NIH directly for transparency on its handling of foreign threats in the research grant process.

Full text of the letter from Levinson to Grassley can be found HERE.