REVISED OCTOBER 2018. This document applies to all NIH grants and cooperative agreements for budget periods beginning on or after October 1, 2018

Confidentiality, availability of information, privacy act, freedom of information act, FOIA, access to research data

2.3.11 Availability and Confidentiality of Information

2.3.11.1 Availability of Information

Except for certain types of information that may be considered proprietary or private information that cannot be released, most grant-related information submitted to NIH by the applicant or recipient in the application or in the post-award phase is considered public information and, once an award is made, is subject to possible release to individuals or organizations outside NIH. The statutes and policies that require this information to be made public are intended to foster an open system of government and accountability for governmental programs and expenditures and, in the case of research, to provide information about federally funded activities.

NIH routinely places information about awarded grants, including project title, the name of the PD/PI, and the project description, on the RePORT Web site (see http://report.nih.gov). For funded research grant applications, NIH also sends the project description provided by an applicant to the DoC's NTIS. NTIS disseminates scientific information for classification and program analysis. The public may obtain the project descriptions from RePORT or request them from NTIS. Other information may be released case by case as described in this subsection.

Several policies require acknowledgment of support and a disclaimer for publications, inventions, and other research products, as provided in Administrative Requirements-Availability of Research Results: Publications, Intellectual Property Rights, and Sharing Research Resources and elsewhere in the NIHGPS.

2.3.11.2 Confidentiality of Information

Applicants are discouraged from submitting information considered proprietary unless it is deemed essential for proper evaluation of the application. However, if the application contains information that the applicant organization considers to be trade secrets, information that is commercial or financial, or information that is privileged or confidential, the pages containing that information should be identified as specified in the application instructions.

When such information is included in the application, it is furnished to the Federal government in confidence, with the understanding that the information will be used or disclosed only for evaluation of the application. The information contained in an application will be protected by NIH from unauthorized disclosure, consistent with the need for peer review of the application (including the agreement by peer reviewers and Advisory Council members to the NIH confidentiality and nondisclosure rules); and the requirements of the FOIA and Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552 as discussed below). However, if a grant is awarded as a result of or in connection with an application, the Federal government has the right to use or disclose the information to the extent authorized by law. This restriction does not limit the Federal government's right to use the information if it is obtained without restriction from another source.

2.3.11.2.1 Privacy Act

The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. 552a (as amended), and its implementing regulations (45 CFR 5b) provide certain safeguards for information about individuals maintained in a system of records (i.e., information may be retrieved by the individual's name or other identifying information). These safeguards include the rights of individuals to know what information about them is maintained in Federal agencies' files (hard copy or electronic) and how it is used, how they may obtain access to their records, and how to correct, amend, or request deletion of information in their records that is factually incorrect.

The NIH maintains application and grant records as part of a system of records as defined by the Privacy Act: NIH 09-25-0225 (https://era.nih.gov/privacy-act-and-era.htm)

This system of record provides guidance on requirements for the management of applicable grant records in NIH's possession and include appropriate routine uses of such information. It also includes requirements for safeguarding the records and for record retention and disposal.

Parties other than PD/PIs may request the release of Privacy Act grant records. Such requests are processed under FOIA. For example, information requested by co-investigators in grant applications is released to them only when required under FOIA because they have no right of access under the Privacy Act. When releasing information about an individual to a party other than the subject of the file, NIH will balance the individual's right to privacy with the public's right to know as provided by the FOIA.

Records maintained by recipients ordinarily are not subject to the requirements of 45 CFR 5b.

2.3.11.2.2 The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552, and implementing HHS regulations (45 CFR 5) require NIH to release certain grant documents and records requested by members of the public, regardless of the intended use of the information. These policies and regulations apply to information in the possession of NIH. Generally NIH cannot require recipients or contractors under grants to permit public access to their records. An exception related to certain research data is described in this subsection.

NIH generally will release the following types of records pursuant to a FOIA request:

  • Funded applications and funded progress reports, including award data.
  • Final reports that have been transmitted to the recipient organization of any audit, survey, review, or evaluation of recipient performance.

NIH generally will withhold the following types of records or information in response to a FOIA request:

Applicants are instructed to identify proprietary information at the time of submission of an application. If, after receiving a FOIA request, NIH has substantial reason to believe that information in its records could reasonably be considered exempt from release, the appropriate NIH FOI office will notify the applicant or recipient, through the PD/PI, before the information is released. In the case of multiple PD/PI's the Contact PD/PI will be notified and is responsible for coordinating any response to the notice. Multiple responses to the notice will not be accepted. If an applicant fails to identify proprietary information at the time of submission as instructed in the application guide, a significant substantive justification will be required to withhold the information if requested under FOIA. The PD/PI will be given five (5) working days to identify potentially patentable or commercially valuable information that the PD/PI believes should not be disclosed. Any such submission must be specific as to the nature and type of commercial harm that will result if the requested information is released. Submissions that merely state in general terms that the grant application or portions should not be released will not be honored. If the PD/PI does not respond within that time period, the grant will be prepared for release in accordance with applicable FOIA policies and released to the requester. If the PD/PI does identify commercial or proprietary information an NIH official will review that response. After NIH consideration of the response, the PD/PI and recipient will be informed if NIH does not agree with the PD/PI's position. If a document contains both disclosable and non-disclosable information, the non-disclosable information will be redacted and the balance of the document will be disclosed.

The HHS regulations implementing FOIA provide that only the NIH FOI Officer may deny requests for information. Requests for information, the release of which is believed to be exempt under FOIA, are referred to the NIH FOI Officer along with written documentation of the rationale for nondisclosure. If the NIH FOI Officer determines that the requested information is exempt from release under FOIA, the requester may appeal that determination to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (Media), HHS. Additional information on the FOIA process is available at the NIH FOI Office Web site (http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/foia).

2.3.11.2.3 Access to Research Data

NIH handles requests for the release of research data by certain types of recipients as FOIA requests. The term "research data" is defined as the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings. It does not include preliminary analyses; drafts of scientific papers; plans for future research; peer reviews; communications with colleagues; physical objects (e.g., laboratory samples, audio or video tapes); trade secrets; commercial information; materials necessary to be held confidential by a researcher until publication in a peer-reviewed journal; information that is protected under the law (e.g., intellectual property); personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; or information that could be used to identify a particular person in a research study.

As required by 45 CFR 75.322, recipients that are institutions of higher education, hospitals, or non-profit organizations must release research data first produced in a project supported in whole or in part with Federal funds that are cited publicly and officially by a Federal agency in support of an action that has the force and effect of law (i.e., regulations and administrative orders). If the data are publicly available, NIH directs the requester to the public source. Otherwise, the ICThe NIH organizational component responsible for a particular grant program or set of activities. The terms "NIH IC," or "awarding IC" are used throughout this document to designate a point of contact for advice and interpretation of grant requirements and to establish the focal point for requesting necessary prior approvals or changes in the terms and conditions of award. FOI coordinator handles the request, consulting with the affected recipient and the PD/PI. This requirement also provides for assessment of a reasonable fee to cover recipient costs and (separately) the NIH costs of responding.

This requirement to release research data does not apply to commercial organizationsAn organization, institution, corporation, or other legal entity, including, but not limited to, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and limited liability companies, that is organized or operated for the profit or benefit of its shareholders or other owners. The term includes small and large businesses and is used interchangeably with "for-profit organization." or to research data produced by State or local governments. However, if a State or local governmental recipient contracts with an IHE, hospital, or non-profit organization, and the contract results in covered research data, those data are subject to the disclosure requirement.

Additional information is available on the NIH Web site at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/data_sharing/index.htm. (Also see Administrative Requirements-Availability of Research Results: Publications, Intellectual Property Rights, and Sharing Research Resources.)