New federal regulations effective October 1 will require some MIT researchers to disclose the existence of certain financial interests.
The regulations, the result of a law passed by Congress, are intended to uncover the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest. Investigators applying for or receiving support from certain federal agencies, currently the National Science Foundation and the Public Health Service organizations, will be required to disclose to MIT the existence of significant financial interests in any enterprise that might reasonably appear to be affected by discoveries in the investigator's research.
The investigator need not disclose the amount involved, but the definition of significant financial interest will encompass holdings of the researcher's immediate relatives.
According to the federal regulations, financial interest means anything of monetary value, including but not limited to salary or other payments for services (such as consulting fees or honoraria), equity interests (such as stocks, stock options or other ownership interests), and intellectual property rights (such as patents, copyrights and royalties from such rights).
The financial interest is deemed "significant" if it is expected to exceed either $10,000 in salaries, royalties or other payments during the next 12 months, when aggregated for the investigator, the investigator's spouse and dependent children.
It is also considered "significant" if it meets either of the following tests: an equity interest which is worth in excess of $10,000 or represents more than a five percent ownership in any single entity.
The investigator's MIT salary and income from public or nonprofit entities are not included in the disclosure requirements. MIT also has determined that investments in mutual funds, tax deferred annuities or pension funds do not need to be disclosed.
To comply with the law and derivative federal regulations, Institute policy will require the following actions from principal investigators, co-principal investigators, and others responsible for the design, conduct or reporting of research (this does not normally include students or postdoctoral associates or fellows):
- Where the individual has no significant financial interests to disclose, a certification on the proposal summary form in advance of proposal submission will suffice.
- Where the individual has significant financial interests which might reasonably be expected to be influenced by the research, completion of a disclosure form will be required in advance of the proposal's submission to the agency.
- An annual certification to MIT that there are no significant financial interests to disclose or an update of the disclosure will be required from all investigators with current awards or pending proposals.
Investigators will normally make the disclosure to their department head or laboratory or center director, depending on the unit submitting the proposal. If the investigator prefers not to make the disclosure to one of these individuals, it can be made to the investigator's school dean or to the vice president and dean for research.
That person then will review the disclosure and take steps to manage or eliminate potential conflicts when appropriate. The information on the disclosure, or even that a disclosure has been made, will not be available to reviewers of the proposal. If a conflict exists, MIT must notify the Public Health Service of its existence and whether or not it is being managed before the funds can be received. In the case of the National Science Foundation, the agency needs to be notified only of situations which MIT does not believe it can manage satisfactorily. All information will be kept confidential to the extent permitted by law.
The Office of Sponsored Programs has prepared a document explaining the disclosure requirements in much greater detail, and has designed simple disclosure forms for NSF and PHS proposals. This information, including the disclosure forms, is available on TechInfo (OSP) or can be accessed via the OSP Home Page at . It can also be obtained from the office of the vice president and dean for research, or by calling the Office of Sponsored Programs at x8-8009 or by sending e-mail to .
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 13, 1995.