Unannounced Site Visits by Outside Investigating Agencies
Regarding Export Controls
The University’s research activities take place in a heavily regulated environment and are subject to oversight by a wide range of federal and state agencies, including law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
As a result, UC Merced can expect occasional site visits by outside agencies as part of routine oversight activities and when there are specific, ongoing investigations.
Two issues, in particular, often prompt site visits: export control issues and compliance with immigration laws. In both instances, site visits are routinely conducted as part of ongoing compliance initiatives and are not necessarily an indication of a specific enforcement initiative.
It is University policy to cooperate with outside investigating agencies to the fullest extent required by law, while fully protecting the rights and privacy of our students, faculty, staff members, and research subjects.
To accomplish this, the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity recommends all researchers and research staff members be generally aware of the possibility of site visits by oversight agencies and be prepared to respond appropriately.
In many cases, the most important action taken by the person who is the first point of contact (whether a principal investigator, a graduate student working in a lab or a research staff member) is to promptly contact the Office of Research so that someone who is familiar with state and federal law and the university’s obligations can participate in the event of a site visit.
If an outside investigating agency presents a subpoena, search warrant, court order, national security letter, or other document compelling the University or an individual to produce documents or otherwise provide information immediately notify the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity and Risk Services.
- Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Director of Research Compliance and Integrity: Deborah Motton, firstname.lastname@example.org; 209-383-8655
- Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development: Samuel Traina, email@example.com; 209-228-4371
- Campus Counsel: Elisabeth Gunther, firstname.lastname@example.org; 209-228-2406
- Risk Manager: Carol Castillo, email@example.com; 209-228-4763
- Department of Public Safety, firstname.lastname@example.org; 209-228-8273 (if it's not an emergency, please do not call 911)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are there steps I can take if contacted by an outside investigating agency?
A: If a student, faculty, or staff member is contacted by an outside investigating agency, we recommend the following:
- Ask the agency representative for official identification with his or her name and agency affiliation. If the investigator presents only a business card, contact their office to verify identity;
- State that you are willing to cooperate, but as a UC employee you want a University representative present;
- If the agency representative presents a subpoena, court order, national security letter or other legal document, ask for a copy and time sufficient to contact the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity to review the legal documentation in advance of the agency carrying out its search or investigation. If unable to contact anyone or the agency presents a search warrant and does not provide a copy or the time to contact anyone, review the documentation presented carefully and understand the authorized scope of the inquiry before any interview or search begins.
- Contact the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity if the investigator wants to proceed immediately (e.g., pursuant to a search warrant) so that a University representative can be present as soon as possible for any interview or search;
- If possible, schedule a later date for any requested interview so that a University representative can be present; and
- Decline to provide the names and nationalities of any students, faculty, or staff members, but inform the investigator that he or she can contact the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity regarding requests for information. You may state you are not authorized to release information under state law and University policy.
Q: Why do outside investigating agencies seek to conduct unannounced on-site visits and interviews?
A: The University’s research activities are subject to a wide range of laws and regulations, and as an institution with an international reputation, the University attracts students and researchers from around the world. These factors combine to make the UC Merced, along with other top research institutions, the focus of state and federal compliance initiatives.
As a public research institution, the UC Merced generally engages in “fundamental research,” the results of which are freely published. Thus, there are very few instances where export control issues arise on University of California campuses. Being engaged in fundamental research, we generally do not restrict individuals who can engage in research based on the nationality or citizenship status. Nonetheless, UC Merced is subject to regulatory oversight, and on-site visits to monitor compliance are inevitable.
Q: Do outside investigating agencies have the right to come on university property and compel university students, faculty and staff members to answer questions and provide documents?
A: Nothing can stop an outside investigating agency from attempting to interview members of the University community, and we cannot prohibit anyone from engaging in interviews if they choose to participate. Unless the investigating agency presents a subpoena, court order, national security letter or other legal document compelling participation, students, faculty and staff members can decline to participate in immediate interviews and ask that the agency contact the Office of Research and Economic Development to schedule a site visit when a University representative can be present.
Q: What should I do if the outside investigating agency presents a search warrant?
A: In the unlikely event that an agency presents a search warrant compelling immediate action (as opposed to a subpoena or other document that provides a date by which the University must comply), carefully review the document to verify it is a search warrant. Although the investigating agency is unlikely to defer its search, immediately contact the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity so a University representative can be present as soon as possible.
Q: What should I do if an outside investigating agency presents a national security letter addressed to UC Merced and asks that I not tell anyone about the letter or its visit?
A: Generally, this document should be served on the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity and not individual students, faculty, or staff members. If an investigating agency attempts to serve a document addressed to UC Merced, you may state you are not authorized to accept service of such a document and direct the agency to the Office of Research of Compliance and Integrity.
Q: Can outside investigation agencies require that the university provide the names and nationalities of university students, faculty or staff members?
A: UC Merced does not provide the names and nationalities of students, faculty, or staff members absent a subpoena, court order, national security letter, or other legal document. To do so could violate both state law and UC policy. All questions regarding students, faculty, or staff members should be referred to the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity or Campus Counsel. These offices can provide the outside investigating agency with a clear explanation of our policies.
Q: Is it all acceptable for a student, faculty, or staff member to participate in an interview with an investigating agency without any University representative present?
A: UC Merced's strong preference is to have a university representative from either the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity or Campus Counsel attend any interviews of employees. We ask for interviews to be scheduled in advance to accommodate this. In instances where a student is not an employee, we cannot require they have a representative present; however, any student can request a university representative be present while they are interviewed. All students, faculty, and staff can decline to be interviewed, absent a subpoena, court order, national security letter or other document compelling participation.
Q: What should a student, faculty or staff member do if they are contacted by an investigating agency outside of their office or laboratory?
A: In the unlikely event someone is contacted outside of the University setting (e.g., at home), that person may ask the agency to contact them in the workplace to take advantage of having a University representative present in any interview. If the agency presents a search warrant, you may be compelled to cooperate, but contact the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity or Campus Counsel as soon as possible.
Q: Should I cooperate with an investigating agency that comes into my office or lab for an unannounced site visit?
A: In the event UC Merced students, faculty, or staff members are contacted by investigating agencies, we encourage them to be cooperative, but to insist upon reviewing any legal documents presented before taking any action and to involve the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity in the site visit and investigation.