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My proposal was funded! What do I do first?

Usually, the Principal Investigator is the first person to know that a proposal will be funded - often via an informal contact. Even when there is no guarantee of an award (perhaps all that is know is that the review scores were very good), there are a number of steps which can make the award setup and project initiation much smoother and quicker.

  • Spread the Word - Let folks know the award may be coming, especially administrative personnel at the department level and in the Office of Sponsored Programs. There are any number of preparations that can begin in support of your project.
  • Reconfirm the Proposal - Check the RAMSeS proposal to make sure that everything which led to the award is attached. Make sure nothing has changed which would impact the conduct of the project.
    • Did you have any correspondence with the sponsor after the proposal was submitted? 
    • Have there been any changes in the proposal budget? 
    • Is the proposal still feasible as it was written? 
    • Are all the personnel still available?
  • Research Subjects - If IRB or IACUC approvals are needed, it is likely time to finalize those arrangements. Delays in these approvals is the most common cause of project delays.
  • Just-In-Time Information - Does the sponsor want information about Other Support or other certifications?
  • Personnel Actions - Will new personnel be hired on the grant? Will the grant pay summer salary? Make sure your grant administrators are aware of these needs.
  • Subawards - If your funded proposal involves subawards to other institutions, let OSP know and review the procedure for initiating subawards.
  • Pre-Award Spending - Is a Project Financial Guarantee (PFG) needed?

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General Award Process

The general process is for OSP to review the award notice (or contract) to ensure that all the terms and conditions are acceptable to the PI and the University. OSP will contact the sponsor regarding problematic issues and negotiate if necessary. The award budget will be reviewed for correspondence to the proposal budget and, if necessary, revisions will be made in consultation with the PI. Lastly, any needed compliance documentation (IRB approvals, certifications, ect.) will be gathered, reviewed, and distributed to appropriate parties. All of this documentation is uploaded into RAMSeS and the award file is sent to Grants & Contract Administration (OGC) for the creation of a Banner fund. This process can take a few minutes (if the award is simple and all the documentation is on hand) or a few weeks (if negotiation is needed or if IRB approvals are pending).

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Oops! I Never Routed a Proposal . . .

From time to time, investigators receive grant awards prior to having the associate proposal routed for institutional approval in RAMSeS. Sometimes this is a simple oversight. Other times, the funding agency has is offering an award without a proposal or on the basis of very informal correspondence with the investigator. In almost every such case, the quickest way to move forward to award setup is to create and route a proposal in RAMSeS. There are any number of questions about the nature of the project which will be cleared up by the RAMSeS routing far more expeditiously than through other methods. In addition to the RAMSeS screens, attach the following to the routing:

  • OSP Budget Template
  • Award documents provided by sponsor
  • Correspondence between investigator and sponsor
  • Scope of Work for the project

Though the proposal process would seem to be unnecessary in these cases, there are various compliance related issues which are managed via RAMSeS. For example, since ECU is the legal award recipient, the University must formally designate a principal investigator to manage the project. Authorized personnel (chairs and deans) must approve that designation and the principal investigator must this accept responsibility. All of that, and more, happens during the RAMSeS routing process. RAMSeS is also the database used to track and report on research activity.

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Contract Negotiations

Contracts offered to ECU for signature often have terms or clauses unacceptable to the University. OSP personnel work with sponsors to remove these clauses - a process which is generally short and amiable as most sponsors are used to working with Universities.

Reserved by the General Assembly

The NC General Assembly has delegated ECU the authority to do many things, but has reserved some authorities to itself. ECU simply cannot legally bind the State of NC to certain things. Among these reserved authorities are:

  • Indemnification or Acceptance of Liability beyond the NC Tort Claims Act.
  • Binding the State of NC to the laws of any other state or nation.
  • Limiting the authority of the Attorney General of NC.
Inapproppriate for Public Universities

A public university is owned by and serves the interest of the citizens. It has a mission to develop and spread knowledge. The nature of a public university makes it inappropriate to agree to certain types of terms and conditions. Such terms include:

  • Subsidy of for-profit companies
  • Excessive secrecy or confidentiality
  • Limitations on publishing
  • Work-for-hire or surrender of intellectual property
Infeasible for ECU

Some terms are not so much prohibited or inappropriate as they are highly difficult for ECU to manage. The scale and resouces of the University generally preclude certain types of agreements.

  • Customized insurance beyond our existing coverages
  • Agreeing to court or mediation venue outside NC
  • Excessive liquidated damages, injunctive relief, etc.

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Pre-Award Spending

The pre-award period is the time between learning a project will be funded and the arrival of formal award documentation. In many cases, expenses during this period can be charged to the grant (once it arrives). Below are some basic considerations to keep in mind, you should also chat with your OSP point of contact.

  • Not all programs allow pre-award spending, make sure you qualify.
  • Some programs have limits (90 days is typical - perhaps more with prior approval).
  • These expenses are at the risk of the unit receiving the award! If the award never arrives or any specific expense is not allowable, the expenses will remain on the award units books.
  • The best way to track pre-award expenses is to use a Project Financial Guarantee (PFG) to open a grant fund. It is possible to use departmental funds to make these expenses, but there are many reasons why creating a PFG is preferable.

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IRB/IACUC Delays

eForm - IRB/IACUC Delay Fund Request

Under most circumstances, OSP will not forward awards to Grants Administration, and Grants Administration will not open Banner funds, without documentation of IRB or IACUC approval of the project. This also applies to Project Financial Guarantees. In rare cases, a grant fund may be established without these approvals if certain conditions are met:

  • The PI must stipulate in writing that no human or animal subjects research will be conducted prior to IRB/IACUC approval.
  • The PI must name a specific date by which point the IRB/IACUC approval is expected to be in hand.
  • The PI's Chair or Unit Head must concur in writing with both the need for an open fund and the expected date of the approvals.
  • The Director of the Office of Sponsored Programs must approve the waiver.

A reminder will be set up in the OSP calendar – shared with the PI, Chair, Grant Officer, Grant Accountant, and appropriate departmental personnel – so that the issue can be revisited on or about the expected approval date. If, at the expected approval date, no approval has been received, the issue should be reevaluated based upon the above conditions. Justifications for continuing to leave the account open at this point should be compelling.

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Project Financial Guarantees (PFG)

Help Video - How to Initiate a Financial Guarantee

What is a PFG?

A Project Financial Guarantee (PFG) is a form routed in RAMSeS which authorizes the University to open a new grant fund for use by a not-yet-funded grant project or a grant project facing a lapse in funding. All charges to a PFG fund are anticipated to be ultimately chargable to the pending award, but are guaranteed by the unit that authorizes the fund. In the event the anticipate grant award does not arrive, or if charges to the PFG fund are not allowable on the grant, charges will be moved back onto departmental funds.

PFG Procedure

PFGs are routed electronically via RAMSeS. They are generally initiated by the unit administering the grant and are approved by the associated Chair and Dean. The process is quite simple and quick – given basic familiarity with RAMSeS.

PFG's are initiated from the RAMSeS proposal screens (rather than the award screens). This is because PFG's are often often used to open a grant fund prior to the existence of an award (so there may not be an award screen yet). The process can be initiated by anyone who can see the proposal (its creator, the personnel named on the personnel screen, and people with Proposal Data Access in the admin unit).

  1. In RAMSeS, open the proposal which solicited the anticipated award* and go to the Routing Status Screen (generally the screen you see when you click on the proposal number).
  2. From this screen, click on the Financial Guarantee tab and then choose Add Financial Guarantee.
  3. In the Financial Guarantee form, describe the Assurances of Funding (the evidence that funding is pending), set the account type to NEW, and enter the name of the person best able to answer questions about the request. Then click Submit.
  4. The PFG will show up in the Financial Guarantee Inbox of the unit leader and any designees. Once approved there, it will route to the appropriate Dean or designee. Upon approval there, it routes to OSP for processing (it is logged and sent to Grants Accounting for Banner implementation). There is a video walk-thru of the PGF approval steps for unit leaders.

* The baseline RAMSeS procedures generally require annual proposal routing for each project. For existing awards, this is done when the progress report is submitted (generally several weeks ahead of any renewal dates). Thus, there should always be a fairly recent proposal which can be used to initiate the PFG. In the event there is no such recent proposal, it may be necessary to route a proposal in support of the anticipated award renewal or extension. Please contact OSP for additional guidance on this process.

Advantages of a PFG

The alternative to using a PFG is to charge pre-award costs to departmental funds. If the expenses are going to occur anyway, a departmental guarantee does not actually mean the department is taking on additional risk. There are several reasons that creating and using a PFG fund is preferable.

  • No cost-transfers - the PFG fund becomes the grant fund once the grant award is finalized. Charges are made to the correct fund at the time they are first made and need not be transferred later.
  • Easy to track - all project related expenses can be placed in one dedicated account, rather than being mixed with other expenses.
  • Can be opened early - many actions require a fund number but do not actually result in expenses. Much of the position creation process (approving a position description, posting a announcement, etc) requires a fund number, but no actual charges occur unless and until someone gets hired.

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Budget Revisions

It is very common for grants to be awarded with reduced budgets. In such circumstances, of course, the proposal budget must be revised to account for the reductions. In some cases, the sponsor will require the revised budget be approved prior to implementation. OSP personnel assist investigators in this process.

Feasibility

The first issue that must be addressed is the feasibility of conducting the project at the lower funding level. If the cut is small, perhaps 10%-15%, there may be no real problem with simply moving forward (though the notes on negotiation below should always be considered). If the awarded funding is only 80% or less of the proposal funding, investigators should explore a change in the scope of work.

Changing the Scope of Work

Significant cuts in a proposal budget (over 20%) present a major impediment to the proposed project. Presumably, everything in the proposal budget was important to the project, so it is not reasonable to proceed with a substantially lower budget without a change of plan. This change of plan should be developed by the PI in consultation with the program officer (or other representative of the sponsor) and with chairs and deans (who will ultimately be responsible for supplementing an underfunded project if it is accepted without revision). Many investigators can readily identify methods of reducing the work or resources required, but it is also useful to negotiate with the sponsor - if only mildly.

Negotiation

At some level, it is important to have a conversation with the sponsor about why the proposed budget was cut. It may be that the reviewers thought some aspect of the budget was overly funded or perhaps not necessary. The sponsor may expect fewer outcomes than the proposal intended. It may be that the sponsor fully expects the project to cost the full amount proposed but wants the university to cover some those costs - essentially requiring cost-sharing without prior notice. Each of these reasons may suggest a different approach to revising the budget. It may also turn out that additional, polite, justification of the proposal budget (and explanation of the likely reduction in outcomes of the project) might cause the sponsor to restore some of the cuts.

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Official Signatures

Generally, formal proposals and awards must be executed by delegated signatories of the University - usually by the Director of Sponsored Programs and/or the Vice Chancellor for Research. Unit leaders (chairs, deans, and directors) are generally NOT delegated as official signatories. Anyone with questions about documents related to sponsored projects should contact OSP.

Procedure: Delegated Signatories of Contracts & Grants

ECU's policy on Delegation of Authority to Sign Contracts can be found on the website for the University Policy Manual as REG 01.10.01 ( http://www.ecu.edu/PRR/01/10/01/ ). The regulation governs the scope of authority to sign agreements of any kind involving commitment of financial, academic, physical or human resources of ECU, regardless of funding source.
 
Delegations of authority to sign contracts are made to positions, not to individuals, whenever possible. The chancellor has statutory authority to sign agreements on behalf of the University. Beyond that position, no employee of ECU has authority to sign an agreement of any kind on behalf of the University as of July 1, 2011 unless the position she or he holds has been expressly delegated such authority and that delegation is published on the website for the Office of the University Attorney (delegation lists are accessible at http://www.ecu.edu/attorney/delegation.cfm).

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Award Policies

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