Stanford University has agreed to pay out $1.9 million to the federal government over allegations it violated the False Claims Act by failing to disclose foreign sources of funding for members of its faculty.
The California university is alleged to have submitted erroneous filings that did not identify all of the sources of funding for 12 faculty members over the course of 16 different federal grant applications from 2015 to 2020. Stanford University applied for grants through the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each of the five government agencies requires grant applicants to disclose their current and pending funding sources.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) detailed the erroneous grant filings in a press release on Monday. The DOJ brought the False Claims Act allegations against Stanford University, following a joint investigation involving the DOJ’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch, and Fraud Section. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland also assisted in the investigation, as did the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the inspector generals for the NSF and NASA, and the Department of Education.
“Universities and their researchers must disclose all sources of current and pending support, including any foreign support, in federal research grant applications,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, who heads the DOJ’s Civil Division, said on Monday. “The department will continue to ensure that grant applicants submit complete and truthful disclosures, so the government has full transparency into the applicant’s funding sources.”
Stanford Professor Linked to Chinese University
According to the DOJ statement, Stanford University “knowingly failed to disclose” to the Army, Air Force, and NSF that one of its professors received research funding in connection with his employment at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.
The DOJ statement did not name this particular Stanford professor or provide any additional details about his employment for the Chinese university. Fudan University is a national public research university sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Education.
NTD News reached out to the DOJ for more details about the Fudan University-connected Stanford professor, but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.
Thomas Cannizzo, the assistant director of the NCIS National Security Directorate, said the failure of U.S. universities to disclose their financial ties to foreign entities during their grant applications “has the potential to threaten government interests.”
Michael Curran, the acting special agent in charge of the CID’s Major Procurement Fraud Field Office, also stressed the importance of grant applicants fully disclosing their ties with foreign entities when entering grant partnerships with the Army.
The DOJ has shown increased concern in recent years about researchers spying for and exporting U.S. research to China. The DOJ has prosecuted several Chinese nationals who have come to work at U.S. universities, including Stanford. In 2020, the DOJ charged Stanford visiting medical researcher Song Chen with concealing her ties to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, but the DOJ abruptly dismissed (pdf) the charges the following year.
In addition to the settlement payment, Stanford University has also agreed to work with the government to improve its compliance practices.
“We are pleased to have resolved this matter and remain firmly committed to supporting our researchers in meeting federal compliance responsibilities as they pursue their important work,” Stanford University said in a press statement it shared with The Hill.
Stanford University said it “takes seriously the threat of foreign governments seeking to undermine U.S. national security” and “strives to be a leader in the research compliance area.”
NTD News reached out to Stanford University for additional comment but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.