NSF releases new framework for ensuring security in scientific research

Gorodenkoff/Getty Images

The National Science Foundation will test the TRUST framework for its capacity to evaluate the potential risks of emerging tech research projects against national security needs.

The National Science Foundation released its new framework to assess individual research proposals for potential risks to national security on Wednesday, highlighting the increasing role emerging technology innovation is playing in geopolitical security. 

The Trusted Research Using Safeguards and Transparency framework features three branches of evaluation: assessing active personnel appointments and positions; identifying instances of noncompliance with disclosure and other requirements; and the including potential foreseeable national security considerations.

Developed by the NSF’s Office of the Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy, the TRUST framework’s inclusion of potential threats to national security is a novel step for NSF as it tries to thread the needle between unnecessarily halting beneficial research projects due to security concerns and protecting the agency’s support of the broader scientific community.

“This framework represents a major step in pivoting from a compliance culture to a research security culture," said Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy Rebecca Keiser in the press release. "But we cannot continue to lead the world in science and innovation if we are fixated on achieving zero risk related to research security. We must be bold and invest in science here at home while continuing to encourage principled, mutually beneficial international collaboration.”

Keiser added that the NSF will work “collaboratively” with research, industry and individual partners to help balance risky research opportunities with beneficial outcomes.

The risk framework’s creation was informed by requirements set forth in the 2022 “CHIPS and Science Act” and also referenced a March 2024 report authored by the MITRE Corporation’s JASON scientific advisory group and solicited by NSF. 

TRUST’s process will be rolled out in three phases beginning in fiscal year 2025 and focusing first on research proposals related to quantum information sciences. 

Following data collection on this pilot, NSF officials plan to utilize metrics and lessons learned to implement further oversight and expand into other key technology areas outlined in the CHIPS Act, including artificial intelligence and machine learning; semiconductors and high performance computing; robotics and automation; and natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation.

Phase three will then work to scale the NSF’s review process for all of these technologies’ and their adjacent research risks.