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Frequently Asked Questions

When should external funds be processed and administered through the Office of Research Administration (as opposed to being handled through Development or the school)?

According to Policy 7.1, Section B, Proposals and agreements for Sponsored Projects must be coordinated and approved through the Office of Research Administration. Awards for Sponsored Projects will be administered by the Office of Research Administration.

Section A of Policy 7.1 defines "Sponsored Projects" as projects and activities wherein one or more of the following conditions exist:

  • There is a financial obligation – funds are awarded specifically or conditionally for the performance of services or delivery of products described in a statement of work;

  • There is a regulatory obligation – it is necessary or desirable to assure compliance with University Policy and/or agency regulations during conduct of the project;

  • There is reporting obligation – it is necessary or desirable for the University to assure technical performance reporting during the project; or

  • There is an accounting obligation – it is necessary or desirable to establish and preserve a separate accounting record of project expenditures to demonstrate allowability of costs, to maintain financial accountability during the project, to make financial reports to the sponsor, and to preserve appropriate records for audit.

What does "coordinated and approved through the Office of Research Administration" mean?

Sections B4 and B5 of Policy 7.1 establish that Sponsored Projects will be conducted and administered in accordance with all University Policy, with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Circulars A-110, A-21, and A-133, as amended, and other applicable governmental regulations, and conditions imposed by the sponsor in the award agreement. Prior to giving formal approval to a proposal and prior to accepting an Award Agreement, the University must determine whether a project and restrictions imposed on and by it are consistent with the University's policies, its mission, its capabilities and capacity, and its commitment to free and open inquiry. This determination is manifest in the signatures by the Chairs, Deans and Financial Officers on the Internal Approval Form (Form II), the Direct Cost Sharing Approval Form, and the Project Initiations Form (Form III). These approval processes and forms are administered by the Office of Research Administration. In part, these approval forms demonstrate that SMU has and has exercised the institutional "oversight and control" required in OMB Circular A-110.

How do I get a proposal coordinated, approved, and submitted through the Office of Research Administration?

Informal contacts between faculty and potential sponsors are encouraged as a means to explore common interests; however prior to formal contact with a sponsor (e.g., submitting a formal proposal, discussing specific agreement terms, or negotiating project budgets), Section G of Policy 7.1 states that it is your responsibility to initiate the Proposal Internal Approval form (Form II) process and allocate sufficient time (ten working days) for the Office of Research Administration to obtain informed approval and orderly proposal preparation and transmission before the agency's required submission date.

What do I need to do and what do I need to provide to the Office of Research Administration to begin this process?

The procedure is described in Section G of Policy 7.1 "The Form II shall be completed by the Office of Research Administration in consultation with the PI/PD originating the proposal. To ensure fully informed consent by the signatories, the Principal Investigator/Project Director shall provide a project abstract to accompany the Form II. The Office of Research Administration, in consultation with the Principal Investigator/Project Director, shall prepare a project budget in a standard format to accompany the Form II and the project abstract." Our web page How to Submit a Proposal expands and expounds this statement. Contact your Grant Specialist and provide:

  • Agency information: name; program, web address etc.; and submission date;
  • A preliminary project budget
  • A project abstract (who, what, when, where, how and how much about the project, rather than a technical abstract)

I am talking with a company who is interested in supporting my research. What kind of agreement and what processes are used in these cases?

First, the proposed project should be coordinated and approved consistent with Policy 7.1 as discussed above. That is, before you submit a formal proposal, discuss specific agreement terms or budget numbers, you are required to obtain formal approval through the Internal Proposal Approval (Form 2) process. The Office of Research Administration is responsible for negotiating specific agreement terms and developing an official budget (in consultation with you and with the Office of Legal Affairs) to be presented to the potential external sponsor. As a first step, ask the company if they can accept SMU's Standard Research Agreement. If they can accept it without changes (other than filling in the blanks and adding appropriate attachments), it will facilitate and expedite the approval and acceptance process since the Standard Research Agreement can be signed by the Director of Research Administration. However if changes are requested, these must be negotiated by the Office of Research Administration in consultation with you and the Office of Legal Affairs, the resulting agreement must pass legal review and must be signed by a vice president, typically a time consuming process.

The company wants to issue a purchase order, PO, to fund the project. Is that acceptable to SMU?

No, commercial purchase orders, per se, are not acceptable to SMU. First, read the answer to the question above. Follow the processes described. Companies do business with each other under the Commercial Code, a body of law governing their relationships and dealings. SMU does not operate under the Commercial Code, and to maintain our charter and non-profit status, we must not do "work for hire." That is, the work must have value for our educational and research missions. The terms and conditions on the back of a PO, written under the Commercial Code are not acceptable to SMU. For example, we offer no guarantees or warranties on your work products or the services you provide. Work done at SMU is "research," is done on a "best effort" basis, and is presented "as is." Anyone who uses it (sponsors, etc.) must accept that they are using it "as is" and at their own risk. Further, we must maintain the right to publish the results of work done here. Reasonable review to identify and protect intellectual property and to identify proprietary information the sponsor may have provided us is acceptable, but there must be no restriction on publication beyond that. In the Standard Research Agreement, we have provided for protecting these positions.

On the other hand, if a company insists on using a PO to expedite their internal processes (budgets etc.), the PO must be "sanitized" by Legal Affairs. The most common and simple way to make the PO use acceptable to SMU is to have the first line on the front of the PO read, "The terms and conditions on the reverse of this PO are not applicable. The following (or attached) agreement is substituted for them." Then attach the Standard Research Agreement.

A company has asked me about rights to intellectual property resulting from projects they sponsor. What is SMU's position on intellectual property?

Our Intellectual Property Policy establishes that SMU owns intellectual property resulting from sponsored projects. The Standard Research Agreement includes SMU's basic position on intellectual property rights. Investigators should be familiar with SMU's processes for administering Intellectual Property Policy starting with the inventor's obligation to disclose inventions to SMU by filing invention disclosure forms. In general, we are receptive to negotiating with companies regarding their needs to have rights to use the intellectual property resulting from the projects they sponsor. Our primary objectives in these negotiations are to preserve your rights to publish, to meet SMU's compliance obligations, and to protect our non-profit status. Our objectives and the company's needs can usually be accommodated by negotiating amendments to the Standard Research Agreement (of when necessary, an agreement put forward by the company). As stated earlier, these negotiations can be lengthy and delay projects. The best scenario is acceptance of the Standard Research Agreement and its provisions for intellectual property rights.

A company is interested in sponsoring a pilot project but they do not want to pay indirect costs. Is that possible?

Indirect costs, or more precisely Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs, are calculated and considered during the budget building and Internal Approval (Form 2) Process discussed above. Requests for cost sharing all or part of the allocable F&A costs (as determined by the current negotiated rate agreement) must be approved by your dean and the AVP of Research. That is, present your request to the Office of Research Administration when the budget is being developed, and we will present your case for approval by the dean and AVPR. In the past, cost sharing of F&A costs has generally been approved for short-term projects with budgets less than about $40K wherein the objective was to test the feasibility and or determine the risks of a larger, longer-termed project with the understanding that full F&A costs would be applied to the budget of any subsequent project. That is, SMU is sharing the costs and risks of the short term project in hopes of justifying and encouraging a long termed project.

My grant expires in two weeks and there is a lot of money left. Can I get an extension or can I spend the money on equipment and supplies?

We will request and extension for you if you supply a credible explanation why you did not complete the project as planned and why an extension is warranted and should be granted. (Having unexpended funds is not justification for an extension.) Generally you cannot purchase supplies and or equipment in the waning days of the project for work that would extend beyond the approved period.

What is SMU's indirect cost rate?

Indirect Costs are now called Facility and Administrative costs (F&A), and they are calculated according the Rate Agreement negotiated with DHHS. Presently the On Campus F&A at SMU is 45.5% (and the Off Campus rate is 26%) of the Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC). MTDC is total direct cost minus GRA benefits, capital equipment, equipment and facility rental, stipends, tuition, and the cost of each subcontract beyond the first $25,000. On Campus is defined as being a project wherein 51% of the costs are incurred in "facilities owned or operated by SMU". See facilities and administrative cost rate (formerly indirect cost rate).

What are the current employee benefit rates?

FY 2011/2012

Faculty/Staff: 28%
Post Doc: 25.3%
GRA: 32%

What kinds of costs can be included in a project proposal budget and or charged to a project account?

In general, only direct costs that are required and necessary to accomplish the work statement may be included in proposal budgets. Such costs must be allocable, reasonable, and not "unallowed" by OMB Circular A-21 (The Cost Standards). Typical costs include compensation and associated benefits for researchers and graduate students (consistent with Section J.10), supplies, travel, equipment, etc. F&A costs, calculated by applying the current rate agreement to the modified total direct costs, may be included in most cases. Charges to project accounts must be consistent with the approved project budget (and must meet the above test).

Can I pay myself in the summer for work that was done during the academic year?

Not legally. See OMB Circular A-21 Section J-10 especially subsections d. 1 & 2. Paying oneself in the summer for work done during the academic year would require false certification of a Personnel Activity Report in the summer, i.e., reporting ones time and effort, that one worked on the project during a reporting period in the summer when that was not the case. False certification of a PAR (and other documents involved in externally funded projects) is a violation of SMU Policy 6.1, "Standards of Professional Ethics for Faculty." Moreover, willful provision of false information or concealing a material fact in reporting time and effort on a Federally sponsored project is fraud, a felony, a criminal offense (U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 1001). Don't do it. The downside is far greater and any gain.

Why do I have to abide by the Fly America Act when the flights are cheaper on X carrier?

See "Fly America" Act Exception Request Form for an answer to your question (the preface) and a form that can be used to request an exception in some limited cases.

My administrative assistant helps me keep records associated with my projects. Can I charge her time to my grant or contract funded project accounts?

No, except in a very few special types of projects. See OMB Circular A-21 Section F 6 b 2. "The salaries of administrative and clerical staff should normally be treated as F&A costs. Direct charging of these costs may be appropriate where a major project or activity explicitly budgets for administrative or clerical services and individuals involved can be specifically identified with the project or activity. "Major project" is defined as a project that requires an extensive amount of administrative or clerical support, which is significantly greater than the routine level of such services provided by academic departments. Some examples of major projects are described in Exhibit C." Very few projects (and none that I know of) qualify for the exception "major projects".

What is a "Pre-Award" and how can I get one?

A "Pre-Award" is approval to work on and incur expenses on a project before the start of the grant period. See the Prior Approval Form for Pre-Award Costs. Fill out the form online, provide the information requested and justification for the pre-award costs, print out the from, obtain the required signatures and send the form to you Grant Specialist in the Office of Research Administration. Please note that Pre-Awards can only be obtained on grant funded projects and then only within certain restrictions. You, your department chair, and your dean should especially be mindful of the certification in bold letters. By signing you are affirming that you are assuming all risks associated with the pre-award costs and will reimburse the University for all costs disallowed and or otherwise not reimbursed by the agency.

I need to move funds from one line to another in my approved project budget. How can I do that?

The Budget Change Request Form is the administrative device to request, obtain approval for, and put into place an approved project budget revision. Open the page, complete the form online by filling in the blanks, print the form, sign it, get your dean's signature, and send the original to the Office of Research Administration, Room, G05, Perkins Administration Building, PO Box 750302. Changes in the budget require justification, so provide an acceptable reason for each change requested. As indicated on the form, some requested changes will have intricate links to other budget lines, so be mindful of that, and include appropriate changes in the affected lines. For example, a change in a compensation line must be accompanied by a change in a benefits line. Read and heed the certification you are making in signing this form. Be aware that changes in project objectives, scope, and or level of effort require amendment of the award agreement and notification of and approval by the awarding agency (it is a condition of the grant or contract). Therefore if the budget changes requested represent any of these, inform your Grant Specialist in the Office of Research Administration of that fact (rather than merely requesting a budget change).

Someone told me that time and effort for proposal preparation cannot be legally charged to project budget accounts. Is that true?

Yes, it is true. Time and effort and other costs associated with proposal preparation are not "allowed" direct costs, and thus cannot be legally charged to project budgets. They may be included in the F&A pool. See OMB Circular A-21 Section J. part 38.

What is the difference between a Gift and Sponsored Program?

See this document: Gifts vs. Sponsored Program