With the ever-changing research environment and requirements, it can be challenging to understand how to comply with requirements in a research environment. The Research Compliance Office (RCO) understands this. The Office supports researchers at the Lab in four fundamental areas: research integrity, conflicts of interest, research security, and now export control.
“To provide a more integrated approach to research security for our staff, we moved the Export Compliance Office from the Laboratory Counsel into the Research Compliance Office, creating a one-stop shop for all research integrity and compliance issues. Safeguarding the value of our research–and meeting our obligations under federal law–is very important, and we want to do that in the most efficient way,” said Carol Burns, Deputy Laboratory Director for Research.
In the following Q&A, Joerg Heber, the Lab’s Research Integrity Officer, and Shilpani Perera, the Lab’s Chief Export Compliance Officer, explain the role of the Research Compliance Office and how the new integration of the Export Compliance Office (ECO) will support the Lab.
How does the Research Compliance Office support researchers across the Lab?
Heber: Our Lab’s mission is to bring research solutions to the world, and our job is to help our researchers bring their solutions to the world. The research landscape is constantly changing with regulations and requirements, and we can’t expect our researchers to know them all.
That is where we come in.
We help them follow all the standards, such as research integrity and help them manage conflicts of interest. We also facilitate with our researchers how to work with specific institutions or countries so that they can focus on their collaborations and their work. We want international collaboration. It is essential to the scientific process. But we have to ensure we do it within the legal and regulatory framework.
What are the responsibilities of the Research Compliance Office?
Heber: We’re responsible for three main pillars: research integrity, conflict of interest, and research security, which includes export control.
Research integrity focuses on all forms of research misconduct. For example, we investigate any research integrity concerns reported to us. We can also provide advice on related aspects, such as authorship questions, questions in relation to the Lab’s research data policy, and the like. We want our researchers to be trusted sources of information.
Conflicts of interest can arise when someone wants to take on an outside paid engagement for professional activities such as consulting, which require careful consideration to mitigate these conflicts per the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Lab policies before that engagement starts. Our role in conflicts of interest is to manage the review and approval process, help our researchers understand the risks, and avoid conflicts of interest whenever possible.
Research security deals with information and data security prior to publication and partly overlaps with export control. The latter is particularly concerned with international engagements, especially with specific countries. It’s an area that’s becoming more and more important because the requirements are increasing. We are looking at countries trying to gain scientific and technological advantage through illegal or opaque means.
Perera: The Export Compliance Office assists researchers by offering essential guidance on requirements to ensure their work aligns with the stringent federal regulations governing exports. These regulations, enforced by federal agencies, demand strict adherence. There have been high-profile cases of individual researchers facing civil and criminal penalties due to violations of these regulations.
Export control is a constantly evolving area with numerous regulatory frameworks and regimes. For example, some of your research efforts may qualify for a fundamental research exclusion while others do not. Physical items developed as part of research or tools used in the research may not. As a researcher, you need to understand how best to structure your research to stay compliant.
This is where we come in; we help researchers understand the complexities and nuances of this area.
We have already integrated many export control processes into the Lab’s operations. We constantly strive to build efficient, streamlined workflows and further the program in a dynamic regulatory landscape. For example, we work closely with the Lab’s shipping department to ensure that shipments of equipment, samples, or other items by our researchers are handled in compliance with the applicable regulations.
We have developed an export control website with answers to many of your questions and a network of export control liaisons across the Lab who are the first point of contact for researchers. The idea is that these individuals are closer to the researchers and their work and have a better understanding of the specific issues.
Our primary goal is always to protect the Lab and the individual because violations have consequences for both the Lab and the individual, including fines and possible jail time. Therefore, the reputation of our Lab and our researchers is our top priority.
Heber: The landscape in this area is constantly changing, so we have to look at how we engage with certain countries in terms of key technologies and scientific information.
This can make life complicated for our researchers. Our goal is to make this process easier for them by developing a center of excellence for research.
How will moving Export Control into the Research Compliance Office change the current workflows for researchers?
Perera: Research is the bread and butter of the Lab. It makes sense for export control to be part of the research community, even though our work extends beyond research. By moving into the Research Compliance Office, we can align our workflows. In the past, both groups would look at international engagement or similar overlapping areas, and researchers would have to answer similar questions twice. Now, we can speak to researchers with one voice.
Heber: The move makes a lot of sense because we can become a one-stop shop for researchers. Previously, we handled it from the research compliance side, and they handled it from the export compliance side, but now, going forward, we can find integrated solutions. This will make it easier for everyone.
If you could wish for one thing that everyone at the Lab would know about your office, what would it be?
Perera: Compliance is a team sport, and your participation is greatly appreciated. When in doubt, please reach out to your export control liaison or our office. Know that you’re responsible even if you don’t know the rules. We don’t want anyone to get in trouble. So please work with us.
Heber: Indeed, please ask us questions. We’re always happy to answer questions, and the sooner people ask them, the easier everything gets. Even if you’re unsure, we’d rather tell you not to worry than catch something late.
We always want to find solutions for researchers but to do that, we need to know what they need.
So, yes, we want them to know that we are here to help and that they can ask us questions.
What more information on the topic?