Five common myths about sponsored projects

March 3, 2011 Laura Huenneke

1. Benefits of Grant and Contract Services

Myth: Grant and Contract Services (OGCS) is just a technical hurdle; I'll do my own negotiating with the funder and leave OGCS out of it until the end - maybe even sign the paperwork myself.

Fact: OGCS administrators are professionals at working with funding agencies and sponsors – they also are less vulnerable to pressure from a program director. Only certain individuals are authorized to sign agreements or contracts on behalf of the university, and OGCS should always be the formal contact for negotiations and signatures.

2. Indirect cost

Myth: Indirect cost is simply the university's slush fund, and I'm better off if I avoid including it in my budget.

Fact: Indirect costs of research are just as real as the direct costs. These include:

  • financial management and reporting
  • research compliance activities
  • administrative support

The university’s research activities are dependent on recovering as much as possible of the indirect costs. Colleges, departments, and individual investigators all benefit from requesting and recovering as much indirect cost in grant budgets as is allowable. OGCS can help in ensuring that your budget goes as far as possible in funding the work while ensuring maximum recovery of indirect costs.

3. Research time

Myth: It doesn't matter when I do the work relative to getting paid for it - as long as it roughly balances out, it's okay.

Fact: Federal agencies require that we track and report accurately the time spent by employees who are receiving salary from a grant – and the date of payment needs to match the date of effort. OGCS and Sponsored Project Services can help with effort reporting and with planning the best possible way to match time spent with the mechanism for payment.

4. When to spend grant money

Myth: When I get a grant, I should save the money for a rainy day and postpone spending it as long as possible (though I may go ahead and do the work).

Fact: Grants and contracts are agreements to perform certain work and produce certain outcomes. Both the university and the investigator look unproductive and unprofessional if grant funds are not spent promptly and effectively, and if projects routinely take longer than the original estimated period.

5. Spending all of the grant money

Myth: If the end of a grant is truly coming, we must not under any circumstances leave a dollar on the table - we must spend out without sending any dollars back, even if it means making large purchases or purchases unrelated to the original project toward the end of the project period.

Fact: Federal agencies require that grant funds be spent on the proposed project, and not on supplies purchased for later use or for items not related to the original project. Often, federal auditors will closely examine the expenditures made in the last few weeks of a project. If circumstances (such as lower-than-estimated costs, or delays in hiring) result in unused funds toward the end of a project, it may actually be better to leave those funds unspent (or return them to the funder) than to make unjustified or unrelated purchases. OGCS and Sponsored Projects Services administrators may be of assistance during the course of a project in helping you manage expenditures so that you are not left with large amounts near the end of the project period.