Many sponsored projects require the use of grant funded property to achieve their research objectives. The equipment is often large, expensive, and regulated by many terms and conditions. Depending on the institution, a specific individual may be hired to ensure the equipment is maintained and utilized in compliance with federal property management standards. If there is not a designated institutional person, then a research administrator within an organizational unit may become involved in the process. One of the most important elements in managing grant funded property is to ensure that property custodians are educated on and compliant with the regulations. The National Council for University Research Administrators (NCURA) invited Scott Sandlin, who works as a Government Property Manager at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, to explain how to train and collaborate with property custodians. His insight and experiences have been synthesized here.
Reviewing and Tracking Grant Funded Property
Whether your institution has employed a government property manager, or appointed an administrator to contribute to the effort, robust property management requires research administration software that supports a tracking and managing space and equipment or other assets. The software system should be able to track equipment descriptions, manufacturer data, cost, location, terms for use current status, loaned equipment status and surplus data associated with the equipment or asset. Not only does it streamline the inventory process, but creates a running log that can be used to prove compliance to the sponsor agency. This can be done quickly with a built in reporting function that groups equipment based on location, organization unit, key personnel, or inventory control number. While the manager or administrator will likely be the ones interacting with the software, some of the data required may come from property custodians.
Property Custodians’ Role
An institution’s property custodian is essential in the property management process. They interact daily with the institution’s government funded property. In fact, “seven out of ten property outcomes as defined by the [value added reseller] are affected by your custodians”. This usually takes the form of equipment movement, physical inventory, utilization, and consumption. Thus, the property custodian becomes responsible for the monitoring and upkeep of grant funded property. That is why each institution must invest in the education and training of these individuals.
Training Property Custodians
No matter how strong and well developed a research team’s internal controls are, if the property custodians are not trained accordingly, any compliance efforts become futile. Property custodians must be briefed on the internal controls relevant to their position. A guidebook should be created that covers the dos and don’ts, without completely rewriting the entire set of policies. Publish all of these reference materials to the office’s website to allow for easy and continual access to the guidelines.
Depending on preferred methods of communication, and what resources are available at an institution, there are a variety of effective training methods to employ, such as creating a series of short videos focus on a specific topics. The University of Alabama in Huntsville runs a certification course that requires property custodians to watch a short video on the risks of property management, and then pass a follow-up quiz. It is also helpful to develop a strong working relationship between property custodians and faculty or research staff by meeting with them face to face to answer any questions. From there the two parties can converse more freely, providing feedback and updates.
Ultimately, training should be a continual and dynamic process. Property managers participate in multiple audits each year. The results can be used as a self-assessment tool that will be utilized regularly and evolve into a set of best practices. In conducting self-assessments the research team can identify weak spots, troubleshoot them with the property custodians, and rectify the situation before an external auditor arrives.
These practices, coupled with a space and asset management system, will prepare any institution for optimal property management. To learn more about an appropriate research administration software system contact the IT Works team today.