Director of Research

Conflict of Interest and Outside Professional Activities

Annual Reporting

» Conflict of Interest Form

Conflict of Interest, Commitment, and Misrepresentation

There are three areas of concern with such activities.

  1. Conflict of Interest - Situations where an individual might influence the Institution's business activities in ways that could lead to personal gain or give improper advantage to associates.
  2. Conflict of Commitment - Situations where an individual's outside activities, however valuable in themselves, interfere or appear to interfere with their obligations to the Institution, colleagues, and students.
  3. Misrepresentation - Situations where an individual's outside activities, wittingly or unwittingly, permit others to construe that such outside activity is part of their activities and responsibilities as a member or representative of WHOI.
Conflicts of interest, commitment, and misrepresentation are matters of concern to the Institution and they also carry further legal and regulatory implications. In particular, as the administrator of sponsored research funds, the Institution is obligated to ensure that such funds are used solely for the intended purpose and not for improper or inappropriate personal gain.

Conflict of interest arises when a member of the Institution deals with suppliers, contractors or subcontractors, or others doing business with the Institution in any way that may give favor based on personal considerations. The sole basis for any business transaction must be in the best interest of the Institution and its welfare.

To avoid conflict of interest:
Principal Investigators must disclose to the Institution's representative significant financial interests that would reasonably appear to be affected by the activities funded or proposed for funding by the National Science Foundation in accordance with NSF's Investigator Financial Disclosure Policy, effective October 1, 1995.

An individual with a significant financial interest in an organization may not conduct that organization's business (participate in the selection, award, or administration of a grant, contract, purchase, or other agreement) with the Institution or make recommendations regarding such business.

Additionally, an individual may not conduct such transactions if he/she or a close relative:

  • is employed by the organization.
  • is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment.
  • has a consulting agreement or other understanding with the firm.
  • is a director of the organization involved.
Individuals involved in the procurement process are responsible for full disclosure to the Institution of potential conflicts of interest. Acquisition from a business in which an individual has an interest is prohibited unless full disclosures of the background facts are presented in writing and subsequently approved by the Institution. In these cases, it is important to handle transactions competitively and on an arm's- length, businesslike basis.

Those with procurement authority must also anticipate ethical conflicts that may arise and try to avoid them. Individuals should report any attempts at coercion or undue influence regarding procurement decisions.

The Federal Anti Kickback Act of 1986 and Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 3.502-2 state no person shall either seek or accept - directly or indirectly - payments, loan services, travel, gifts, or entertainment from any supplier or company with which the Institution conducts or may conduct business. Furthermore, in accordance with FAR clause 52.203-7, any attempt by a contractor to violate this act is to be reported to the Manager of Government Regulations for action.

Individuals should also be aware of other potential conflicts of interest that arise from opportunities they may have to influence or to be influenced improperly by personal relationships in ways not consonant with the employment and education policies and principles to which the Institution is committed.

Potential conflicts of interest of a particularly sensitive nature may arise out of consensual and/or sexual relationships, especially in the context of employment or educational supervision and evaluation. Because the effects on other people are frequently not apparent to the persons involved in a sexual relationship, anyone with such an involvement should be attentive to the feelings of colleagues and to the potential conflicts of interest that may be involved.

Examples of Professionally Unacceptable Activities or Activities Requiring Specific Oversight

  • Holding a tenured position at another institution while a member of the WHOI scientific staff.
  • Withholding information emanating from any sponsored research to attain personal gain or profit.
  • Giving access to proprietary Institution information to assist an outside organization.
  • Consulting under arrangements that impose obligations in conflict with Institution patent or copyright policy or with obligations to research sponsors. (Individuals must contact the Office of Technology Transfer for assistance with drafting standard form consulting agreements.)
  • Circumstances in which research or other activities that ordinarily would be carried on within the Institution is conducted elsewhere to the disadvantage of the Institution.
  • Owning, operating, or working at a company that competes with WHOI, or selling materials or services to WHOI as the owner, operator or employee of the vending business while also employed by WHOI.
  • An activity (research project, conference, teaching program, consulting agreement, etc.) that an individual may wish to undertake on an individual or outside basis:
    • that involves or appears to involve the Institution's resources, logo, or reputation,
    • that violates any of the principles governing research supported by funds administered through the Institution, or
    • that has the potential to inhibit the free communication of ideas among colleagues or restrict availability or dissemination of the results of research.
  • Situations in which the time or effort an individual devotes to outside activities is large enough to compromise the amount or quality of his or her participation in the scholarly, educational, and/or administrative work of the Institution itself.
  • Situations creating, or appearing to create, a conflict of interest.

Activities Requiring Prior Approval

  • Any significant use in outside professional or commercial activities of Institution facilities or equipment or participation by Institution personnel.
  • Commitments of a professional or business nature (akin to an individual's work at WHOI) that total an aggregate of more than eighty hours per year.
  • Acceptance of compensation or perquisites if the amount received cannot be clearly identified as equal to the value of the service provided.
  • Service that involves remuneration, other than travel and incidental expense, from any foundation, agency, or individual from which the Institution currently receives or has received grants or other support, or with which the Institution has signed agreements or understandings.
  • Service that benefits, directly or indirectly, an organization or individual to which the individual or a close relative is indebted or obligated, or in which the individual or a close relative is a partner, director, officer, employee, or share owner, or has other beneficial or creditor interest.

Terms and Conditions of Disclosure

Individuals are to make the required disclosures to the Department Chair, Administrative Manager, Associate Director, Director, or Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, as appropriate. To the extent possible, all such disclosures will be treated as confidential.

An acknowledgment record of the Institution's policy on Conflict of Interest and activity reporting will be maintained on an annual basis, through individual sign off.

Advance Disclosure

Disclosure (using Attachment B) must be made sufficiently in advance of any anticipated agreement or other form of commitment, however informal, by the individual to allow the appropriate individual(s) the opportunity to make inquiry as to the nature or extent of the activity, to reach a decision as to Institutional involvement, to require or suggest changes in or additions to any agreements or understandings that are to apply, and to explore patent possibilities, potential conflicts of interest or attention, and the like.

Some of the criteria that can be expected to be considered in reviewing anticipated outside professional activities for which advance disclosure is required are:

  • Is the individual's primary responsibility to the Institution in danger of being compromised?
  • If there is substantial personal professional effort for the individual, is it clear that these professional efforts will be consistent with Institution goals?
  • If use of Institution personnel or facilities is planned, is this use secondary to, and not likely to interfere with, normal Institution activities? Have such personnel agreed to work on such activity or project? How are such personnel to be compensated?
  • Is the Institution's ability to deal objectively with suppliers, contractors, or others with which it does business in any way compromised or would the appearance of such a possibility be created?
  • Would any appearance of unfairness to other Institution personnel result?
  • Would the stature of the individual in the scientific community or in his/her particular discipline be enhanced, as is usually the case when serving in the capacity of a professional referee, member of a visiting committee, editor of a scientific journal, or the like?
  • Is the Institution's name inappropriately associated with the activity or is there a possibility that such an association could arise?
  • Is inappropriate use to be made of ongoing research to provide profit or competitive advantage to a private interest?
  • Does the activity carry with it the potential for inhibiting the free communication of ideas among colleagues in the Institution or for unreasonably restricting the availability or dissemination of the results of research?
  • Are patent protection and patent licensing being properly considered and agreed upon?
  • In general, is the Conflict of Interest policy being adequately implemented?
Annual Reporting

In addition to prior disclosure of potential outside professional activities, it is in the interest of the Institution that it have a record of all such activities. Accordingly, all individuals are required to report annually on all of their outside professional activities and to disclose significant financial interest in entities that would be affected by funded research.

The report (Attachment A) is to be submitted to the Department Chair, Administrative Manager, Associate Director, Director, or Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, as appropriate, not later than January 31st for the previous year's activities. If no activity has been performed, this should be so indicated on the form.

In the event that a conflict of interest determination is made, the appropriate Associate Director will report his/her determination in writing to the affected employee(s), with a copy to the Director. In addition, the Associate Director will inform any and all appropriate Institution offices and departments of this action, along with any restrictions and/or conditions that have been imposed as a consequence. Such offices could include, but not be limited to, Controller's, Procurement, Human Resources, and Grants and Contract Services.

Resolution of Conflict Determinations

In the event that an employee elects to appeal the action taken by the Associate Director, the appellate procedure is through the Director of the Institution. The Director will conduct an independent review; his/her determination shall be binding.

The Director has the ultimate authority and responsibility to determine when the foregoing policy applies and what steps, including procedural enforcement and sanctions, should be taken to correct a situation deemed not in the best interests of the Institution.

The Institution recognizes that while an individual's primary professional commitment may be to the Institution, outside consulting and other forms of independent work are accepted activities. Involvement in outside professional activities, both public and private, often serves not only the participant but the Institution and the field of ocean sciences as well. This policy is to ensure that an individual's activities are in concert with the interests and mission of the Institution and that the Institution has sufficient information to arrive at a reasonable decision as to the appropriateness of activities.

This policy applies equally to Institution personnel at all levels, defined as Trustees, members of the Administration, Scientific and Technical Staff, and all other employees, scholars, fellows, students, and others holding Institution appointments (hereafter collectively referred to as "individuals" or "an individual"). The Sr. Associate Director and Director of Research and the Associate Director for Finance and Administration have been charged by the Institution's Director with administrative responsibility for this policy.

In addition, funding agencies may have policies with regard to investigator conflicts of interest. In such cases, information is appended. National Science Foundation (NSF) requirements are consistent with a similar National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy.

Last updated: February 10, 2014