Five basics you should know about Conflicts of Interest (COI)
What are my financial interests?
Everyone should know their own financial interests and recuse themselves from participating in any LBNL decision involving those financial interests.
Do I need prior approval to engage in outside work?
You need advance permission before engaging in outside outside work – submit a Compensated Outside Professional Activity request online through AskUs.
Outside work should not use LBNL time or resources, conflict with your LBNL work, or embarrass the Lab/UC/DOE.
Are there restrictions on international engagements or affiliations?
DOE no longer allows employee affiliations or engagements with China, Russia, Iran or North Korea without prior permission. No employees or affiliates are allowed to participate in a foreign government talent recruitment program from any of these countries.
The permission process managed by the Research Compliance Office requires approval from the Lab Director, DOE’s Site Office, and ultimately the DOE Secretary of Energy.
What about CRADAs and SPPs?
You should not be involved in proposing, approving, or performing work in a CRADA or SPP if you have a financial interest in the sponsor or an entity related to the work. Anyone involved in proposing, approving, or performing work in a CRADA or SPP should fill out a CRADA and SPP COI form; PIs should also fill out a 700-U form. Forms are available in the Sponsored Research section on our Forms page.
What training is required for COI?
Last but not least, complete required trainings timely:
- The Ethics and Compliance Briefing for Researchers (ECBR) training through UC focuses on ethics and funding requirements related to conflicts of interest.
- Outside Business and COI training focuses on outside interests and conflicts of interest.
What are ‘financial interests’ under the LBNL Conflict of Interest Policy?
A financial interest is anything of economic value, including a fiduciary relationship with an outside entity. While not an exhaustive list, examples of financial interests include positions such as director, officer, partner, founder, consultant or manager of an entity (whether paid or unpaid); scientific advisory board or technical advisory board membership; salaries; consulting income; stock or stock options (vested or not vested); honoraria; gifts; loans; and travel payments.
Disclosable income does not include monies received from the University of California. It also does not include monies derived from licensing fees or royalty income paid to UC by the research sponsor. Salary paid by the University (including LBNL) is not considered disclosable personal income even if it is derived from support provided by the research sponsor.
Who must disclose? What conflicts of interests must be disclosed?
Disclosures fall under 4 main categories: Compensated Outside Professional Activities, Sponsored Research, Technology Transfer, and Designated Official Filings. Depending on the kind of disclosure, different interests must be disclosed. In brief:
Compensated Outside Professional Activities – all employees, including part-time employees and faculty members, must disclose compensated outside professional activities, including but not limited to employment, positions of ownership and/or management, and equity holdings
Sponsored Research – PIs and others with responsibility for the design, conduct or reporting of research must disclose interests in sponsors of research, and for some federally sponsored research, interests in related entities
Technology Transfer – inventors must disclose interests in potential licensees of Laboratory technology
Designated Official Filings – employees who are Designated Officials under UC’s Conflict of Interest code must disclose interests upon assuming office, annually, and upon leaving office. Post-employment restrictions apply.
What is a financial conflict of interest?
A financial conflict of interest is a situation in which an objective layperson might perceive that an individual’s financial relationships may compromise the individual’s professional judgment in performing their responsibilities to conduct research, procure goods or services, or otherwise make decisions on behalf of the Laboratory. For example, an investigator may have a financial conflict of interest if he or she is a consultant to the company sponsoring research in his or her laboratory. Another example is an employee who wants to purchase services from a company in which he or she has significant equity.
Is a financial interest automatically a conflict of interest?
Not necessarily. Some argue that any financial interest in a company automatically puts the individual into a situation where there is a conflict with his or her research responsibilities. Others believe that some financial interests are so minimal and/or inconsequential that they do not constitute conflicts of interest. It is important to note that:
- Some financial interests fall below the thresholds for reporting.
- Some reportable financial interests do not require further action because they are considered so inconsequential that they are unlikely to influence an investigator’s behavior. In such cases the COIAC will recommend that research support be accepted with no further action.
- Even if a financial interest is determined to constitute a significant conflict the COIAC tries to find ways of managing, reducing or eliminating the conflict.
Who reviews financial disclosures?
The Laboratory Conflict of Interest Advisory Committee (COIAC) is a panel of scientists from disciplines across the Laboratory. They review disclosures of financial interests that have the potential to represent significant conflicts of interest that must be eliminated, reduced or managed. The Committee determines an appropriate strategy for management of any significant conflict, and makes recommendations to the Laboratory Deputy Director. Disclosures of financial interests are public documents available to members of the public and to the Department of Energy upon request.
What happens if the Conflict of Interest Advisory Committee determines that a conflict of interest exists?
If the Committee determines that the disclosed financial interests constitute a real or perceived conflict of interest, they will recommend actions designed to eliminate, reduce, or manage the conflict. In some instances, the Committee may simply recommend disclosing the interest in all publications and presentations. Depending on the facts, the Committee may also recommend other measures such as divestiture of all equity interest in the sponsor or elimination of any consulting arrangement with the sponsor. Additional measures may include the appointment of an ad hoc oversight committee to provide ongoing monitoring of the issue.