As we discussed in the Faculty Senate Meeting and in the Research Update Event earlier this year, new restrictions have entered the federally sponsored research space. They deal primarily with Effort reporting, particularly in the summer.
The purpose of this announcement is to bring you up to date on important changes being made to meet these new restrictions.
Federal auditors have been auditing research compliance at universities for several years, and have focused, among other things, on the usage of summer ninths. Specifically, they have found that many Principal Investigators (PIs) who receive a total of three summer ninths from federal sources were nonetheless not devoting a full three months of effort to the project(s) for which they received the three ninths. The auditors treat this as a breach of federal regulations and have levied, or threatened to levy, very large fines against institutions that were not in compliance. In response to this issue, Yale, MIT, Michigan, and other leading research universities are limiting faculty to 2 – 2.5 summer ninths from federal sources.
You may be aware that the National Science Foundation already limits to two-ninths the total amount of salary paid from NSF grants during a calendar year.
We have decided that UMD’s level of institutional exposure is not tolerable.
The following changes will be implemented for the summer of 2011.
Audit findings include salary expenditures charged to grants when the individual did not work on the project or the salary charged was in excess of the time spent on the project.
Specific findings include faculty paid a full 3 months summer salary from sponsored projects when other activities were also being conducted by the faculty member.
The other activities include:
- non grant specific work such as proposal writing
- committee or administrative work
- vacations occurring during the summer months
- summer salary charged in the summer when the work was actually done during the academic year
In response to these findings several institutions have implemented policies restricting the amount of summer salary that can be charged to sponsored projects during the summer.
In most cases the allowed amount is 2.5 months.
UMD has reviewed the implications of these findings and has determined that a limitation of the amount of summer salary allowed on sponsored projects is necessary in order to remain compliant with federal cost accounting requirements.
Beginning with Summer 2011 a maximum of 95% of 66 available days (63 days) will be allowed to be charged on sponsored projects. The remaining 3 days will be allowed to be paid from unrestricted sources, i.e., all non-Federal sources. There are different ways to fund the 3 days, including PI indirect cost recovery accounts or with the Department Chair or Dean's written approval those indirect cost recovery accounts or other unrestricted funds.
In addition, faculty may also take the opportunity to review how their time is spent on a sponsored project throughout the year and may be able to charge some academic time to the grant. This academic time would not be course buyout but considered part of the 40% time the faculty member is expected to spend on activities other than instruction during the 9 months of the academic year. Charging this academic time to the grants would result in salary saving that could then be used to pay non-sponsored effort in the summer. Please check with ORA for the procedure to follow.
If a faculty member believes there are specific circumstances which would make it appropriate to charge more than 63 days summer salary to sponsored projects the request may be made to the provost. In order to receive more than 63 days salary during the summer the PI must make the request in writing and attest to the fact that paid salary is in proportion to the effort expended. If a full 66 days is requested the attestation must also include a statement that during the period for which salary is requested the PI will be working only on the projects indicated. The impact of teaching summer courses and taking vacation must also be considered when determining how much time is actually available for sponsored projects.
When assigning effort to activities in the summer it may make more sense to spread the effort for each over the entire summer rather than on a month by month basis. This provides the most flexibility in actually carrying out the work and prevents issues when 100% effort is assigned to a project in a particular month and other activities including time off occur. Findings also resulted when employees were working on sponsored projects other than those to which their salary was charged and when faculty failed to meet the level of effort committed in the proposal.
Other Effort Reporting Steps
While the above discussion focuses on summer effort it is equally important to ensure that salary charged or cost shared to a particular sponsored project during the academic year represents the actual effort expended on that project.
When determining how much effort should be charged to a particular project it is important to remember that effort is not based on a 40 hour week. If an individual typically works 50 hours in a week than 100% effort is based on a 50 hour week making 10 hours 20% effort. If an individual typically works 32 hours a week then 10 hours is 31%. It is the faculty member's responsibility to provide support for his or her normal workweek and the distribution of effort upon audit.
Other effort related findings concerned failure of faculty to meet committed levels of effort in awarded proposals, lack of tracking voluntary uncommitted cost share and late certification of effort reports.
Any decrease in effort of more than 25% requires sponsor approval. As mentioned above, effort is based on 100% of time not individual hours spent. Contact ORA as soon as you realize that your actual effort will drop more than 25% of the commitment.
A clarification of Office and Management Budget Circular A-21 memo issued in 2001 states that most federally funded projects should have some level of committed effort throughout the calendar year from faculty or other senior researchers. This effort may be paid or unpaid. In addition the NIH Grants Policy Statement states "Zero percent" effort or "as needed" is not an acceptable level of involvement for senior/key personnel." This level of effort also needs to be included in the effort reporting process for certification. In order to meet this requirement University of Massachusetts Dartmouth requires as of this notice that a minimum of 1% effort be committed to most federal projects. This minimum required effort may take place over the summer or during the academic year so a grant with summer salary requested and no academic year effort has met the requirement. Exceptions to this requirement include equipment and instrumentation grants, doctoral dissertations, and training and travel grants.
In order to avoid audit findings for late certification of effort it is essential that all effort, both on sponsored projects and non-sponsored activities, be certified promptly.
It is important to review effort cards early in the certification process and contact ORA with any questions early. Emails are sent from ORA at the beginning of each certification period and periodically throughout the period.
Thank you in advance for dealing with a very challenging Federal funding requirement.