Who Can Help Me With…?

Deciding Which Office Can Assist Me

Not sure who can help with your contracting needs? The BCBP Decision Support Tool for Contracts is currently under construction. For help in determining which office is authorized to develop and execute your agreement, please use the University of California, Berkeley Decision Support Tool for Contracts. Note that this tool is designed to direct the majority of contract requests to the correct starting point, but unique circumstances may require a call with one or more contracting offices.

The Status of My Proposals and Awards

Phoebe Search provides UC Berkeley Principal Investigators and Co-PIs as well as research administration staff with a searchable interface to records of each individual proposal and award, including the status of each proposal (e.g., submitted) and award (e.g., awaiting sponsor funding decision), and reports of current and pending transactions. See the PI Quick Guide to Phoebe Search and other Phoebe Search guidance for more information.

Proposal Development

Research Administrators (RAs) working in the department or in Berkeley Regional Services (BRS) are responsible for assisting Principal Investigators (PIs) to develop proposals and budgets for proposals. When the proposal is ready for submission, the BRS or Department Administrator submits the proposal to one of these two offices for review/approval and submission:

Proposals should be received by SPO or IAO at least four working days before the proposal deadline. “Late” proposals must be approved by the Vice Chancellor for Research (VCR). PIs must follow the VCR’s directions for obtaining this approval. When there is not enough lead time, SPO or IAO may inform the VCR that the proposal cannot be submitted.

Evaluating Risks at the Proposal Stage

Most proposal application guidelines do not include the sponsor’s award terms and conditions. When award terms and conditions are mentioned in the directions for preparing a proposal, the sponsor is typically putting the University on notice that such terms are likely to appear in a resulting award notice. In some cases, the University is required to accept the terms upon proposal submission.

Evaluating Risks at the Proposal Stage lists problematic award requirements may appear in the proposal preparation guidelines. Although SPO or IAO may be able to convince a sponsor not to include such terms/conditions in the actual award, PIs should be familiar with the risks associated with each before deciding to develop and submit an application.

Understanding the Federal Uniform Guidance

On December 26, 2013, OMB issued new guidelines for federal grants management through one “super” circular entitled, “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.” This “Uniform Guidance” has been designed to reduce the administrative burden on recipients of federal funds as well as the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse. For an overview of the old vs the new requirements see Federal Uniform Guidance Overview for Principal Investigators: Preaward.

Registering for Grants.gov Workspace

Principal Investigators

PIs must register as an “Organization Applicant” in Workspace. To register, use Berkeley’s DUNS number: 124726725. (Do not enter any dashes between numbers.) After registering, the PI should give their username to the campus Research Administrator (RA) who will be helping the PI with future Grants.gov applications in Workspace.

Research Administrators

RAs must obtain a “Manage Workspace Role.” To do this, the RA will need to register in Workspace as an Organization Applicant using Berkeley’s DUNS number: 124726725. Then the RA must contact their assigned SPO Contract and Grant Officer (CGO), as SPO will need to approve the RA’s “Manage Workspace Role.”

See Grants.gov at Berkeley for more information.

Registering for the NIH eRA Commons

To register as a new user, contact the Sponsored Projects Office at UC Berkeley for assistance with registration: spoawards@berkeley.edu.

Indicate if you have a previous eRA commons profile for another institution. The Sponsored Projects Office will update your profile affiliating you to UC Berkeley.

You will need to provide the following information:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • UCB Email
  • Type of account needed (i.e., PI, Postdoc, Assist)

After SPO registers you in the Commons, you will receive an “Account Created” notification email (sent to the email you provide in the UCB Email field) containing the username and a randomly generated password. New users who are PIs receive an email that provides a link to a special form that the PI uses to confirm the information that NIH has regarding the PI’s participation in grant applications, committee involvement, and training appointments. Only after this form is completed does the PI receive an email with the account information. You then will be asked to create a new password.

Note: Organizations must comply with the Federal Information Security Act, which includes the requirement to change passwords on NIH’s electronic Research Administration (eRA Commons) system every 120 days.

Registering to Use NSF FastLane

FastLane users (PIs and co-PIs) must have an NSF ID to access FastLane. NSF uses an account management system that allows users to create and self-manage accounts, including personal information and role requests. Each user has a single profile and unique identifier (NSF ID) for signing in to FastLane and Research.gov for proposal and award activities.

New users can register with NSF directly. Users with existing NSF accounts can access the NSF ID Lookup page for their NSF ID. Forgotten passwords for established NSF accounts may be retrieved on the Forgot Password page. For more information, see About Account Management on Research.gov.

Research Data Management

Most federal funding agencies require that proposals include a data management plan that describes how research data will be generated, managed, and made available. The campus Research Data Management program provides assistance for creating data management plans as well as support implementing the plan and addressing issues encountered during and after the completion of a research project. An online guide provides information about data management plans and many other topics pertaining to research data. The Research Data Management consulting service can connect researchers to experts in a range of disciplines and domains. Researchers are encouraged to contact the program directly with their questions (researchdata@berkeley.edu).

Proposal Review and Submission

After receiving the proposal, SPO or IAO review the proposal for compliance with sponsor and university policies and requirements. SPO or IAO then has the authority to approve the proposal for submission on behalf of the University. In most cases SPO or IAO also transmits the proposal to the sponsor. In some cases when it is more practical to do so, SPO or IAO may authorize the department to submit the proposal directly to the sponsor. However, this is never done prior to SPO or IAO review and approval. PIs should never submit a proposal to a sponsor directly to a sponsor without SPO or IAO authorization. This is a University policy violation.

Note: There are some proposals for external funding that do not need to be reviewed and approved by SPO or IAO prior to submission, however these are very rare. PIs are advised to always consult with SPO or IAO (depending on type of sponsor) prior to submitting any request for external funding that will involve the University.

Electronic Proposal Errors

Most federal sponsors require that proposals be submitted via electronic systems such as Grants.gov or, in the case of the National Science Foundation (NSF), FastLane. These portals are sensitive to minor errors, such the number of letters in a proposal title, as well as major errors, such as omitted proposal sections. When these errors are identified, the proposal may be rejected. If the rejection occurs early enough to correct and resubmit, the proposal has a chance of being officially submitted by the proposal deadline. In such cases, SPO will work with the department research administrator and the PI as necessary to correct the problem and resubmit. “Late” proposals are therefore more at risk for rejection because there is less time to identify and correct errors.

Receiving an Award

When a sponsor wants to make an award to the University, the award document is typically sent to SPO or IAO, depending on the office that approved the submission of the proposal. If the PI or Department receives the award directly, the PI/Department should contact SPO or IAO immediately. No unit on campus is authorized to accept a sponsored project award on behalf of the University except SPO or IAO. SPO processes the majority of the awards it receives within 30 calendar days. PIs are encouraged to wait to 30 calendar days before contacting SPO about the status of an award. Award terms are being negotiated during this time, and when complex awards and contracts are being negotiated it may take time to reach agreement on these terms.

Starting Work Before an Award Arrives

When an award is delayed due to administrative procedures or paperwork, a PI may request that a “Fund Advance” be processed by his or her department. A fund advance provides the PI with a fund that may be charged for a limited amount of start up costs until the actual award arrives and is established by SPO or IAO. When the award is established the same fund can then be used to charge the remainder of the project’s costs and there is no need for a cost transfer to occur. There are three types of fund advances that may be used at UC Berkeley. The type used depends on funding source and level of risk involved. See Fund Advance Request for instructions and conditions.

Negotiating an Award

The PI should never attempt to negotiate his or her own award terms or to sign an award/contract issued to the University. This must be done by SPO (for government/non-profit sponsors) or IAO (for-profit sponsors).

PIs also should never try to “help” the process along by interacting with a sponsor during the negotiation process. If the sponsor receives conflicting information from SPO/IAO and the PI, the negotiation of the award can be significantly delayed.

The award negotiation process can move quickly or it can take more time depending on the type of sponsor and if the terms or conditions initially required by the sponsor cannot be accepted “as is” by the University.

The average award processing times by types of sponsor posted on Sponsored Projects Proposal and Award Dashboards indicate that federal awards usually move through the system more quickly than non-governmental or state awards. However, averages do not tell the whole story. Any type of award can take a long time to negotiate if the sponsor and the University cannot come to an agreement on the terms and conditions of the award/contract.

When such an impasse occurs, SPO will make a determination as to whether the sponsor is requiring something that the University cannot accept under any circumstances or if the requirement can be handled with an “informed consent” provided by the PI and/or the dean/chair/director of the PI’s unit.

An example of something that the University cannot accept under any circumstances is a sponsor restricting a Berkeley PI’s right to publish the results of the project. SPO often will agree to a short publication delay for certain acceptable reasons, but SPO always will protect the PI’s academic freedom, even if the PI does not want this type of protection, to preserve Berkeley’s open academic environment.

Use of an informed consent would never be appropriate in such a case. However, there are other award terms and conditions that SPO may view and treat as a PI or department/unit decision.

For example, a sponsor might require the submission of more frequent progress reports than other sponsors require. Since the PI will have to write and submit these reports—only the PI will be asked to sign an informed consent indicating that this term is acceptable.

However, if the sponsor is adamant about having the right to terminate the project without paying the University for any non-cancelable obligations, SPO will ask the PI and the PI’s department chair or unit director to sign an informed consent agreeing to be responsible if unpaid costs result before accepting such a term in the award.

Please note: SPO always will always attempt to have the problematic term/condition removed from the award or contract. An informed consent will only be used when appropriate.

SPO also will endeavor to explain the term/condition as clearly as possible in the informed consent document and to outline any risk/s involved. However, it is not possible for SPO to predict what will happen to any particular project in the future. Nothing adverse may ever happen, but by signing an informed consent the PI and/or the chair/dean/director of the PI’s unit is agreeing to accept the risk (financial and otherwise) if the award/contract term in question should lead to an unfavorable outcome. It is therefore very important for all concerned to understand the content of an informed consent and the risk/s involved before signing.

Post Negotiations

After the negotiation phase is completed by SPO and IAO, the the award information is fed into Phoebe Awards, the University’s contract and grant database. Within 24 hours this award information is fed to Contracts and Grants Accounting (CGA), Berkeley’s central post-award office, and a fund number is automatically generated by the Berkeley Financial System (BFS). The next step is for the BRS or Department RA to submit a complete budget to CGA and initiate the award budget setup in BFS.

Administering an Award

The PI is always ultimately responsible for the management of his or her project, and this includes expending the sponsor’s funds according to the sponsor’s requirements and University policy. BRS or Department RAs typically assist the PI with this process. Any deficits that result become the responsibility of the PI’s unit under the campus deficit reduction policy.

The Phoebe Award Summary received from SPO or IAO will summarize and highlight important elements of the award. However, PIs are responsible for reviewing the award documents for a comprehensive understanding of award terms and conditions and should notify SPO or IAO if the terms noted by SPO or IAO conflict with the award document.

Managing My Project Funds

As mentioned above, the PI is ultimately responsible for the financial administration of the project and must approve all transactions. A BRS/Department RA assists with the day to day management of project funds. Invoicing and the preparation and submission of financial reports is the responsibility of Contracts and Grants Accounting (CGA). CGA also works with the PI and the BRS/Department RA to close out the project fund when the award has terminated.

PI Portfolio provides Principal Investigators with a quick yet comprehensive overview of all their awards financial data, including Co-PI and allocated funds. PIs can use PI Portfolio to view fund balances and expenses, then drill into transactions and personnel details for specific funds for more in-depth analysis.

Notifying the Sponsor about Requests, Problems and/or Issues

If the terms of the award require the University to notify the sponsor and to obtain the sponsor’s prior approval for any particular action, the PI should work with SPO or IAO to submit this notification/request. Such actions include, but are not limited to: requests to re-budget project funds, requests for a no-cost extension, requests to change the Project PI, requests to establish a new subrecipient partnership, and reporting a significant change in the PIs effort on the project. SPO and IAO are the offices of record for all such prior approval transactions and failure to submit through these offices could result in significant delays.

My Business and Service Contracts

When a faculty or staff member is providing a service to an outside party for a fee the transaction should be handled by Business Contracts and Brand Protection (BCBP). BCBP handles “incoming” funding for service activities only. Such activities include providing already developed (off the shelf) materials and/or resources and routine product/material testing.

However, if the PI is engaging in any of the following types of activities, the PI will need to work with the Sponsored Projects Office or the Industry Alliances Office (depending on the source of funds):

  1. The systematic study of phenomena directed toward more complete scientific knowledge or understanding of the subject studied with or without specific applications in mind.
  2. The production of new materials, devices, systems, or methods, including design, development, and improvement of prototypes and new processes.
  3. An activity that generates results that the participating UC Berkeley faculty/staff members and/or students plan to publish.

Another resource for determining where a transaction belongs is the University of California, Berkeley Guide to Contracting. This document presents a thorough overview of all of the contracting offices at Berkeley. For a quick decision on where a particular transaction belongs, see BCBP Contracting at Berkeley and use the Decision Tree (series of questions) to decide where to start.