Effort Commitments on Sponsored Projects Office of Sponsored Programs Why are we talking about this? • The federal government has made effort reporting a top target for audits. • NSF’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is making the rounds of research universities. • The Department of Justice is involved, filing charges under the False Claims Act. • Many universities have had to pay millions of dollars in fines. What should I know? Effort is your work or your time on an activity, sponsored or non-sponsored. Your total effort is capped at 100%. (Sorry, over-achievers.) A commitment of effort on a sponsored project must be based on a good faith estimate of the amount of time planned to carry out the project. Effort on a sponsored project can take two forms: Committed Effort = Paid (Direct) Effort + Contributed (Cost-Shared) Effort Proposed effort becomes an obligation of effort if/when the project is awarded that must be met.* If you’re working on your bee grant, don’t charge your ant grant. If you say that you’re working 100% on a sponsored project, you better be working 100% on that project. Effort should be charged when it is expended, and reasonably align with salary.* Effort must be certified by someone with the best firsthand knowledge and suitable means of verifying that the work was performed. Effort reporting and certification is not an exact science. Reliance is placed on justifiable estimates. Tracking Effort Systems and Framework Policies & Procedures TRACKING EFFORT Proposing Effort Acknowledging Effort Expending/Charging Effort Certifying Effort Proposing a Commitment of Effort Effort is proposed and budget is prepared (based on IBS, % Time, Duration) IBS, time, etc. Principal Investigators Good faith estimate Help PIs put together IBS, time, etc. DRAs/Dept. Support Staff proposals/budgets Plan workloads/release times, IBS, time/buyout Academic Administration approvals Policies/Procedures OSP/VPR Provide assistance, oversight Acknowledging Effort Commitment Commitment is reported and published in INOA. INOA Principal Investigators Acknowledge award, conditions INOA, Comm. Report Assist PIs with adjustments if DRAs/Dept. Support Staff necessart INOA, Comm. Report Academic Administration Track PI time INOA, Comm. Report OSP/VPR Record and disseminate info Expending and Charging Effort Appointments are made commensurate with work. Time, Appt, $ Principal Investigators Comm w/staff Appt/Position DRAs/Dept. Support Staff Make appointments Appt/Position Academic Administration Approve appointments Assist with adjustments, provide OSP/VPR oversight Certifying Effort Effort is attested to after the fact. ECRT Principal Investigators Certify effort (self and support staff) ECRT/Comm Report. DRAs/Dept. Support Staff Assist PIs with certification Comm Report Academic Administration Track certifications process certifications, assist PIs ECRT OSP/VPR with ECRT SO, Why are we talking about this? Assessment of risk at the institutional and system level led to this revamping of how we talk about effort at UTSA. SO, Why are we talking about this? • It’s federal policy. • It’s not new; it may just sound unfamiliar because of the recent changes. “The most important obstacles in effort reporting compliance are misunderstanding and denial, and sometimes one obstacle feeds on the other.” Robert J. Kenney, Jr. Director, Grants and Contracts Practice Hogan and Hartson LLP, Washington, DC “Time and Effort Reporting: Overview and Risk Assessment” Report on Research Compliance, January 2006 SO, Why are we talking about this? Auditors look for indication that certification was based on factors other than actual, justifiable effort. Audits & Investigations: Who Does What? Office of Sponsored Programs Who Audits? • Sponsored research projects are subject to audit by a variety of offices and agencies: • Internal Audit (UTSA Auditing and Consulting Services) • State of Texas • UT System • Department of Health and Human Services • Individual Sponsors Federal OIG Purpose of Audits • Verification of Good Fiscal Stewardship • Recommendations for Areas of Improvement • Due Diligence Regarding Whistleblower Allegations • Investigation and Establishment of Consequences if Findings Uncover Wrongdoing Role of the Auditor • Auditors are not “The Bad Guys.” • Auditors provide the important function of keeping the system in balance and protecting the public. • Especially when referring to federally sponsored projects, auditors and their work provide assurances that we are good fiscal stewards of the people’s money. • Occasionally, the auditor provides valuable feedback and advice to management for making improvements to the process. Role of Central Research Administration • Central research administrators from OSP play the role of host. • OSP is the main point of contact between the auditors and institutional staff, coordinating interviews, monitoring the flow of information, and ensuring that the auditors have appropriate space and equipment. • OSP monitors the audit to ensure that the audit is conducted within the rules of accepted audit practice and to ensure that the audit is conducted within the originally- defined scope. • The Vice President for Research has the final say in responding to the audit on behalf of the University. Role of the PIs and Support Staff (yes, you) • Provide information/documentation as necessary • Agree to answer questions/meet with auditors within established parameters • Assist OSP with any and all information requests The Audit Process The Audit Letter • Serves as initial notification to the University • Should clearly define scope of the audit and dates. • Should provide sufficient time to pull appropriate documents and schedule office space for auditors. Entrance Conference • Also called entrance interview, the auditor will conduct an initial meeting with the principal investigator, business managers, compliance officials and representatives from OSP. • The purpose of the Entrance Conference is to define the scope of the audit and lay the ground rules for the audit. Audit Fieldwork • Assess the competence and attitude of the University central administrators as well as the principal investigator and departmental business personnel. • Looks at our internal control system, i.e., policies and procedures, and monitoring mechanisms. • If the University makes a good impression, the auditor will develop an audit plan, selecting transactions on a sample basis to verify that the system is working. • If the University makes a bad impression, the auditor will have no choice but to “look at everything.” Exit Conference • At the end, auditors will discuss their “findings” with central administrators during an “Exit Conference/Interview.” • It is the job of central administration to know the regulations and defend the University if we are operating within the rules (and to concede if we are not). Findings and Impacts • Following the visit, and depending on the type of audit, the University will receive a written report with audit findings • The University may or may not have the opportunity to respond to the findings • In certain cases, audit findings prompt changes to university processes and procedures • In particular cases, audit findings may require involvement of other agencies of the Federal Government (e.g. DOJ) Audit Tips • Do not make the auditors do your work; pull the records for the auditors. • Do tell the truth and answer questions honestly and directly. • Do not do the auditors’ work for them; limit your response to the question being asked. • Call a central administrator if you ever feel uncomfortable about the way an audit is being conducted. Audit Tips • Do not tamper with or manufacture records. If you have no records, say so. This is not the time to make records! • Be alert. Auditors may not know the regulations applicable to your project as well as you do. • Auditors are people too. Kindness and respect go a long way. Remember... • All audits of sponsored grants and contracts must be coordinated through OSP. If an auditor contacts you directly, please refer them to OSP. • Do not allow an external auditor or investigator to look at documents or interview personnel without the involvement of these central offices. • Do not allow the FBI, attorneys, or any other investigators of law enforcement officials to proceed with an investigation without involving OSP.
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