The University of Texas at Dallas (“UT Dallas”) is committed to conducting all of its business in an ethical and legal manner, including avoiding organizational conflicts of interest and providing full and open access to its work to its sponsoring agencies and prime contractors. UT Dallas has existing policies and procedures regarding the ethical conduct of research and conflicts of interest and commitment. Research and development activities will be performed in compliance with this mitigation plan in addition to the requirements of incumbent policies. UT Dallas is committed to avoiding or mitigating any Organizational Conflicts of Interest (“OCI”) that may arise in the performance of research and development activities sponsored by the federal government. UT Dallas also has existing information control and access procedures in place to sensitive information received by UT Dallas will not be shared without the necessary authorization. Conversely, public information will be broadly disseminated in order to maintain open and equal access to information. UT Dallas will regularly monitor its activities to ensure possible and actual OCI are dealt with proactively.
What is an OCI?
OCI arises when the federal government awards high-stakes contracts to a limited number of organizations and, by the very nature of these limited and unique contracts, sets up potential situations in which the organization can influence the ground rules of engagement, impair objectivity and/or gain access to sensitive information. Such situations may provide an unfair competitive advantage. In addition, an employee’s activities or relationships, separate from their contract work for the government, might impair their ability to provide impartial assistance or advice to the government.
In general, the types of OCI that can be identified are:
- Unequal Access to Information: Arises in situations when an organization has access to confidential or proprietary information as part of its performance of a Government contract and where that information may provide the organization a competitive advantage in a later competition for a Government contract. FAR 9.505-4: “In these ‘unequal access to information’ cases, the concern is limited to the risk of the organization gaining a competitive advantage.”
- Biased Ground Rules: Arises in situations when an organization, as part of its performance of a Government contract, has in some sense set the ground rules for Government procurement, for example, by preparing the statement of work or the specifications. FAR 9.505-1, 9.505-2: “These situations may also involve a concern that the organization, by virtue of its special knowledge of the agency’s future requirements, would have an unfair competitive advantage in the competition for those requirements.”
- Impaired Objectivity: Occurs in cases when an organization’s work under one Government contract could entail its evaluating itself (or a competitor), either through an assessment of performance under another contract or an evaluation of proposals as part of another contract. FAR 9.505-3: “In these ‘impaired objectivity’ cases, the concern is that the organization’s ability to render impartial advice to the Government could appear to be undermined by its relationship with the entity whose work product is being evaluated.”
“Center Director” is a UT Dallas employee responsible for the direction and/or oversight of an externally funded research center.
A “center” is an organization where UT Dallas personnel from one or more departments engage in a dedicated research activity.
“Center personnel” are UT Dallas employees who perform research within a center.
“Principal Investigator” is a UT Dallas employee responsible for the direction and/or oversight of an externally funded research project.
Reporting an OCI
All Center personnel are required to report potential OCI issues or concerns of which they become aware or observe. Reporting can be made through the Center Director, Office of Research Integrity and Outreach (“ORIO”), or the UT Dallas Ethics Hotline (1-888-228-7707). The OCI report should include a description of the potential conflict.
When a potential OCI is reported, the situation will be evaluated by the Assistant Director of ORIO under the oversight of a Conflict of Interest Review Panel. The Panel will make the final determination regarding whether a potential OCI is an actual OCI and approve mitigation protocols. The project protocol will identify potential OCI and will include benefits and risks regarding contract performance that may be associated with an approved project protocol.
Setting up an OCI Mitigation Plan
An OCI Mitigation plan will be required if a potential OCI is identified, or if a mitigation plan is required for the performance of federally funded research. The OCI mitigation plan will summarize the situation, identify the OCI, and provide conditions for how to mitigate that risk.
Click here to view and download the template plan.
Click here to view and download the template protocol.
Examples of conditions imposed by a mitigation plan to avoid or reduce the impact of an OCI include reporting potential OCI concerns, submitting a COI disclosure, completing an OCI training module, monitoring Center personnel, and following an information security plan.
The project principal investigator will be responsible for directly monitoring all Center Personnel identified as having access to sensitive information for compliance with the project protocol. Center personnel must report any possible OCI to the project principal investigator or the Center Director within 30 days. Any instances of noncompliance or breach of sensitive information must be reported immediately to ORIO. ORIO will then have 60 days after the initial report to evaluate and investigate the potential OCI and present the results to the Panel for final determination and mitigation. After evaluating the reported OCI, the Panel will implement any corrective actions necessary to mitigate the effects of the reported OCI and ensure the integrity of the related research and development activities.
All Center personnel are required by UT Dallas policy UTDPP1029, Research Conflict of Interest, to submit an annual disclosure form to report any potential OCI or other conflict of interest or commitment that may be related to research and development activities. The annual disclosure forms will be reviewed by ORIO and evaluated by the Review Panel if a potential conflict is identified.
All Center personnel are required to complete an Organizational Conflict of Interest Training module before starting work on a contract subject to an OCI protocol, and then annually thereafter. The training will provide general information on OCI, how to protect sensitive information, and the mechanism for reporting concerns or breaches. After all Center personnel receive OCI training, they will then sign and certify they understand the requirements on the authorized uses and mandatory protections of sensitive information.
All signed training documents, data management plans, conflict of interest disclosures, and OCI documentation will be maintained by ORIO.
Relevant Laws and Regulations
- UTDPP1100 – Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment
- UTDPP1102 – Outside Activity Policy for All Employees Excluding Executive Officers and Employees Involved in Procurement Activities or Contract Management
- UTDPP1029 – Research Conflict of Interest
- UTDBP3096 – Information Security and Acceptable Use
- 200.318(c)(2) – Uniform Guidance
- FAR 9.5 – Organizational and Consultant Conflicts of Interest