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Vol. LVIII, No. 23
November 17, 2006

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FIC’s Foreign Tracking System Rolls Out

Last year, the National Institutes of Health spent nearly $700 million on extramural research in foreign countries. Among the major recipients of federal grants, cooperative agreements and contracts were Brazil, Canada, China, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

As all institute and center directors know, when an award contains a foreign component, IC staff must inform the Fogarty International Center. The data submitted to FIC is then sent to the U.S. Department of State, which reviews all research and development programs to ensure consistency with the foreign policy objectives of the government.

The gatekeeper for all this clearance activity is FIC’s Division of International Relations, which abstracts and condenses the IC data before submitting them to the Department of State. Last year, Fogarty received 3,338 clearance requests, an increase of nearly 60 percent (2,131) over 2004. According to Kevin Bialy, FIC international relations program specialist and the person who runs the day-to-day operation, the number of requests is just one indication of the increasingly global reach of NIH research.

For many decades, the process followed the tortuous “cable clearance” paper path with messages and printed copies of grants and contracts going back and forth between NIH, Fogarty, State and U.S. embassies overseas. This led to difficulties in tracking NIH’s foreign collaborations.

Now, through the work of staff at FIC and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a web-based Foreign Tracking System (FTS) will be accessible by the end of the year to both NIH and Department of State staff, including embassies. NIH staff use of the system for clearances became mandatory on Oct. 1, 2004. The Department of State will make FTS use mandatory for all U.S. embassies by Dec. 31, 2006.

For users, FTS will meet two critical needs. First, it will speed clearance of NIH foreign awards through U.S. embassies, helping reduce approval time—in some cases from months to days. Second, as a database, FTS will allow IC staff to track all NIH-funded extramural research conducted in foreign countries.

“For the first time, FTS gives NIH staff easy access to valuable data about our funded foreign research. Simply logging on the system will let them gather answers to such questions as what programs are active in China, how much funding for HIV/AIDS is going to South Africa, and which researchers and research institutions we fund in Brazil,” said Dr. Roger Glass, FIC director.

Other benefits of FTS for NIH staff include the ability to track the progress of requests, to produce reports on NIH activity in a given country and to communicate with Department of State staff to identify and quickly resolve problems. Also, FTS lets State staff review and approve requests for clearance after information is released to FIC staff by NIH institutes and centers.

FTS was developed because of the significant increase over the last 5 years in NIH direct foreign grant awards and domestic awards with foreign components. The system was also needed to more effectively track the international collaborations of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers.

“The web-based FTS is consistent with NIH’s move into the modern era of electronic grants processing,” said Bruce Butrum, FIC chief grants management officer and the brains behind the key features of the system.

FTS was first used at U.S. embassies in three pilot countries: the United Kingdom, Canada and Italy. These were selected because of the large number of NIH collaborations and the non-sensitive nature of the research vis-a-vis U.S. foreign policy.

Following a successful trial of 3 months, 27 other countries were added. The 30 countries involved in the first and second phases of the FTS roll-out account for nearly 70 percent of extramural NIH foreign research grant awards. For more information, contact Bialy, (301) 496-6273 or NIH Record Icon

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