RCR Framework Interpretations: Impact of Investigations
Differential impact of investigations on review committee members or external reviewers vs applicants or grant/award holders
1. Are individuals under investigation allowed to participate in the Agencies’ review processes, as a review committee member, an external reviewer or in any other capacity?
No. An individual who becomes the subject of an investigation for an alleged breach of Agency policy must temporarily withdraw from participation in any Agency review process. They are not allowed to serve as a review committee member or as an external reviewer until the investigation is complete. If the allegation is unfounded, then they may return to their review duties.
2. Why are they not allowed to participate while under investigation?
Continuing to permit a respondent to act as a review committee member or external referee while under investigation risks diminishing the credibility and integrity of the review process. If, after the review process is complete, a review committee member or external reviewer is found to have been responsible for a breach of Agency policy, this would taint the legitimacy and credibility of that review process (which could not be repeated) and the review process more generally.
From a procedural fairness point of view, the appointment of review committee members or external reviewers is at the discretion of the Agencies. It is a reasonable exercise of the Agencies’ authority not to permit individuals under investigation from serving as a review committee member or an external reviewer. In other words, sitting as a review committee member or an external reviewer is not a right, but a privilege that the Agencies extend and which they can revoke. The basis for such revocation is not arbitrary, but based on the need to protect the integrity of the review process.
3. Are individuals under inquiry allowed to participate in the Agencies’ review processes, as a review committee member, an external reviewer or in any other capacity?
Yes. Individuals under inquiry are allowed to continue to participate in Agency review processes. Given that inquiries are conducted by institutions to determine whether an allegation is responsible and whether an investigation is warranted, it would be premature to require someone to remove themselves from the review process at such an early stage in the process. In fact, many allegations are proven to be unfounded at the inquiry stage.
4. What actions should an individual under investigation take if they are a current participant in an Agency review process or are invited to become a participant?
An individual who becomes the subject of such an investigation should immediately inform the relevant Agency’s staff of their temporary unavailability to participate in the review process. This is required even if the individual has accepted an invitation and is in the midst of carrying out their services. In order to protect the confidentiality of the process and limiting the amount of information being shared regarding an RCR matter, these individuals are asked not to explain the reason for their temporary unavailability.
A person under investigation must decline all invitations to participate in Agency review processes.
5. Who decides if an individual that was under investigation can resume or commence their participation in the review process?
Participation in an Agency’s review process may resume or commence once the President of the relevant Agency has determined that the individual is once again eligible to participate.
6. Are individuals under investigation allowed to apply for or hold Agency funds?
Yes. Individuals who are under investigation may still apply for or hold Agency funding.
7. Why are individuals under investigation allowed to apply for or hold Agency funds?
Individuals applying for Agency funds may or may not be successful in obtaining a grant or award. The Agencies do not want to prejudice the application or adjudication process by preventing an applicant from being considered for funding. Should an applicant under investigation be successful in obtaining funds, and later found to have breached an Agency policy, the Agencies have many types of recourse available to them, depending on the severity of the breach. Not every recourse will result in reimbursement or ineligibility to hold or apply for funding, therefore it would be unfair to prevent applicants under investigation from pursuing their research agenda. For example, sometimes recourse is limited to a letter of awareness or a letter of reprimand.
Individuals under investigation may continue to hold Agency funds while under investigation, unless the severity and urgency of the alleged breach and its possible consequences (potential financial, health, safety or other risks) warrant the Agency taking special measures, such as freezing funds. If, following an investigation, a breach is confirmed, the Agency has the ability to impose recourse that would undo the possible harm caused by the breach - e.g. reimbursement of funds, retraction, termination of the grant. Given the ability of the Agencies to rectify breaches, it would be premature and in many cases unnecessary to prevent a grant or award holder under investigation from continuing their research, especially if the recourse imposed is a letter of awareness or a letter of reprimand.
If an Agency President determines that a Respondent is ineligible to hold or apply for funding, the Agency can terminate a grant or seek reimbursement of funds already disbursed, either from the individual or from the institution.
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