Today’s post is the fifth in a series that looks at all facets of research administration within the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Part I – Preface
Part II – Faculty
Part III – Departments
Part IV – Information Systems
Name: Charles Bartunek // Jennifer Hopkins
Department: Office of Research Administration
What is your position/title: Senior Contracts Associate // Grants Associate
At what point(s) in the research administration process do you normally get involved?
Charles: From a contractual standpoint, it usually depends on the type of agreement to be negotiated. For non-funded agreements, I am just as likely to work with a sponsor before any draft has been provided as I am to receive something requiring review. Given the diversity of the work performed by our faculty, the anticipated work often times does not fit neatly into the boundaries of one of our standard templates, so I’ll work with my counterpart to figure out the best way to address the various activities and obligations that have been discussed. For funded agreements, frequently a formal proposal was never submitted for a particular project, so I generally learn of the collaboration when the department (or, occasionally, the PI directly) sends me a contract proffered by the sponsor. In these cases, I’ll usually wait for the COEUS record to be submitted before reviewing the agreement, as how the budget and SOW are written will dictate whether I request certain changes to the terms.
Jennifer: It varies from situation to situation. I have departments that give me a working list of pending proposals, which I add to a spreadsheet that I use to track my work. I also have departments that submit proposals with little or no warning or details. I much prefer the first approach! It gives me time to prepare, as, if the sponsor is unusual or someone we haven’t previously worked with, I have the opportunity to research their policies. It’s important to remember that many of the same departments submit for the same deadline and I have to coordinate review for everyone. So, the more I know ahead of time, the better.
What are some of the more common errors that you see that end up slowing down the process?
Charles: Most of the common errors usually involve our office not receiving all of the information necessary to allow us to fully review an award in its proper context. For non-funded agreements, this occurs most often with Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs), as we require that the faculty member submit a checklist with each proposed MTA that lists the sponsor, the anticipated use of the materials, any IP rights that might be involved, etc. The information in the checklist determines whether we’ll agree to certain limitations on our PI’s actions, so when the MTA arrives without the completed checklist, our review is put on hold until we receive it. On the funded side, we’ll sometimes receive an award that doesn’t use our NICRA IDC rate but without an explanation as to why we didn’t receive our full F&A. In general, our most frequent errors occur within the COEUS record, as the Proposal Type (e.g. Supplement) and/or Activity Type (e.g. Organized Research) will not coincide with our understanding of the project.
Jennifer: For pre-award, the most common thing is missing paperwork, such as the RFA or the IDC rate confirmation from the sponsor. Another big one is the 5 question certification forms, which is required for anyone listed on the Investigator or Key Persons Tab in COEUS. For PHS applications, the wrong eRA Commons ID for the PI is common, as well as missing FCOI forms, especially when we are the subrecipient. Modular budgets also tend to show budget inconsistencies because they haven’t been synced in COEUS.
For post-award, most hold-ups come from awards that are issued to us that did not go through COEUS or ORA. I cannot review an award until it’s been submitted and approved in COEUS, so if I need to negotiate, it can take a while to get to the signature stage. I also frequently need backup documentation, such as a request for a No Cost Extension, which people forget to workflow through me.
What advice can you give to faculty and staff members that could help make the contract or grant process easier?
Charles: Get us involved as early as possible! We recognize our limitations, and also are aware that a negotiation make take longer than desired, but it’s a lot easier to clear up any issues before a record has been created or a proposal submitted than afterwards when we have to work with the department to clean up. Also, don’t feel that you’re inundating us with too much information about a particular project. As mentioned earlier, our negotiations are dependent on all aspects of the proposal/contract package (SOW, budget, prime contract, et al.), so the more armed we can be when negotiating with the sponsor, the better. Finally, when in doubt, just ask! In the end, we want to make sure the award is signed and processed quickly, too, so with that commonality we should work together as much as possible to reach our goal.
Jennifer: Communication is the key. Let me know when you begin working on a proposal, especially if it’s an unfamiliar sponsor. Send me as much documentation as possible. I am always happy to answer questions or help in any way, as is the entire ORA staff. As Steve Fisher says, teamwork makes the dream work!
Next Time: Finance Office