For many involved in post award administration at a large institution, the split between central and departmental offices may feel insurmountable. However, each office is essential as they maintain different responsibilities. As such, a high level of cooperation must exist, requiring an overall understanding of who is accountable for what. Unfortunately, this delegation of responsibilities is not always clear. This blog details central and departmental offices’ roles during post award administration. This knowledge, married with an effective grant management software, will lead to greater institutional cohesion and post award success.
Central vs. Departmental
Before we can understand how each office fits into the post award process, we must first ensure there is a clear definition of what differentiates the two offices. The two offices exist with the goal of a checks and balance system that safeguards the integrity of grant and financial management. The central office provides a general oversight, housing auditable records and serves as the final approval for departmental expenditures. The departmental office executes the day to day activities that range from completing purchases, to hiring personnel, to conducting the grant funded research procedures. This give and take may sometimes feel like a game of tug-of-war, but the structure is important for the success of the project and the transparency and accountability of the institution, especially in post award administration.
Post Award Administration
Now that we have established the respective roles of the central and departmental offices we can examine the responsibilities each holds during the post award process. For simplicity’s sake, the post award process can roughly be broken down into four main elements:
- Terms and Conditions
- General Project Management
- Financial Management
We will go through each element and explore what relevant responsibilities the central and the departmental offices hold.
Terms and Conditions
The central office generally houses the personnel authorized to negotiate and sign sponsor awards. Therefore, they are responsible for ensuring compliance with the requirements, reviewing governing law, and seeing that all deliverables are submitted on time. These time tables are predominately focused on financial due dates and carry over terms, and are internally adjusted so the departmental office will submit all necessary documents with enough notice for review and editing. The central office maintains a predominately macro view on the terms and conditions within post award administration. They provide general oversight while making sure all limitations and cost shares are met.
The departmental office, by contrast, oversees the execution of the terms outlined in the grant contracts. Their concerns are focused more on purchasing restrictions, publication limitations, and day to day operational needs. While the central office ensures all required deliverables are submitted on time, the departmental office is tasked with the construction or provision of data for these items. In conducting the grant based research, the departmental office must confirm its procedures are compliant with the proposal approved by the sponsor. This requires the departmental office to work in tandem with the central office to meet all the terms and conditions and fulfill the scope of the project.
General Project Management
In managing the post award administration process, the central office has a strong focus on deadlines, records and finances. There are two main types of due dates: an internal deadline, which involves subcontracts and the continual revision of deliverables, and the external deadline, which is set by the sponsor. In overseeing a project’s records, the central office must ensure all expenditures are compliant, all paperwork is retained and cataloged appropriately, and retention date policies are met. For greater details on the central office’s management of the financial process see the next subsection.
In managing the post award administration process, the departmental office deals with funding, deliverables, sub recipients, and stakeholder communication. When preparing materials such as deliverables to send to the sponsor, the office must follow any special formatting or submission requirements. The essential data that is collected must be shared with the relevant stakeholders, ranging from the PI to the sub-recipients. Those in the departmental office have to follow-up with the project’s sub-recipients, reviewing their performance and filing necessary invoices. Additionally, the office tracks the funding profile, and guarantees all allocations are compliant. Greater detail on the financial process is described in the next section.
The central office supervises the budget reviews, cash management, and any cost transfers. They determine allowable expenses and review specific expenditures that may not generally be allowable. The office reviews the monthly expenses and is able to step in if there is a problem with the PI’s financial allocations or the staff’s effort. The central office also provides oversight for tracking effort across all projects and personnel. If an individual is contribution cost share effort on the project, they are required to have institutional approval from the central office. During post award administration the central office may come in contact with auditors, so they must monitor all these aspects and have proper documentation on hand.
The departmental office has a strong emphasis on running financial reports. This be facilitated by the use of a shadow system that produces financial reports that include projections of expenditures through the current budget period and/or project period. Data reporting can range from effort allocation to the actual purchases to a PI’s requested budgetary updates. The departmental office can use this accumulated information to guide their financial management, ensuring everything is allowable and in line with the original forecasts. All of these elements must be communicated to the PI, and eventually submitted to the central office.
As the end of a grant approaches the central office begins their close-out process. They review any final charges, evaluate the Facility and Administrative costs or indirect costs for accuracy and help to reconcile the final budget, addressing any overspending. Central office helps with contractors’ release forms and finalizes the effort reports. Everything runs on a tight timeline. If there is any equipment the office must review the terms of the award and then communicate with the sponsor regarding disposition of equipment. They work closely with the departmental offices to ensure everything is ready to submit to the sponsor.
Throughout close-out, the departmental office prepares final information needed by the central office. They work to close out their budget to zero, and manage any overspending. If there are sub-recipients, the departmental office concludes their partnership and compiles the sub-recipient’s final information. There is an understanding that these various reports will be stored and liable for audit. As such, the departmental office communicates with the central office to determine if there are any last forms necessary to complete for the project.
Working in Tandem
For either office to successfully navigate post award administration, they must work together. This collaboration is founded on the desire to achieve the same end goal. To facilitate effective administration, many organizations have implemented grant management systems. IT Works provides a variety of solutions that can be tailored to each institution’s needs. Talk it over with your neighboring office and determine which is best for both of you.