Impact of Campus Budget Cuts on SPO
Sponsored Projects Office Campus Update: July 2017
In response to campus budget reductions required to eliminate the deficit at UC Berkeley that the Office of the President has stipulated, the Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) has reduced the number of administrative staff processing proposals and awards by 3.0 FTE.
This reduction in the SPO workforce has prompted the adoption of efficiencies identified by the Research Administration Improvement Initiative that in the long run will improve SPO’s service model. However, the loss of SPO personnel also will require changes in SPO’s service model. The following information is provided to help the campus both understand and adjust to these changes.
SPO has always made every effort to ensure that proposals submitted by UC Berkeley are responsive to sponsor requirements and University policy. Since 2016, SPO has required proposals to be submitted through Phoebe and received by SPO at least five work days prior to deadline. These proposals were given the highest priority and SPO Contract and Grant Officers (CGOs) were expected to turnaround proposal comments so that the Principal Investigator (PI) had time to make needed proposal corrections prior to submission to the sponsor.
SPO intends to continue to provide proposal comments in this manner to the best of our ability. In fact, in response to requests from PIs and Research Administrators (RAs) involved in the campus End to End (E2E) review of research administration, SPO now groups review comments into categories to facilitate proposal editing and correction:
- Issues related to “University proposal requirements” must be corrected before SPO submits the proposal to the sponsor.
- Items identified as “sponsor-related proposal comments” and “other comments” are recommended by SPO to enhance the success of the proposal, and it is up to the proposing team to determine how to respond to these comments.
However, after this initial review, SPO now will only be able to remind the proposing team to fix errors related to university proposal requirements and potential submission errors that will prevent the proposal from being received by the sponsor. The proposing team will be responsible for deciding if any other proposal issues identified by SPO should be addressed. SPO will no longer be able to remind the proposal team to make these adjustments.
As the result of the campus End to End (E2E) review of the award set up process at Berkeley, SPO, along with Campus Shared Services (as of 2019, Berkeley Regional Services or BRS) and Contracts and Grants Accounting (CGA) have implemented a number of solutions to improve the campus’ award processing time.
The improvements specifically implemented by SPO include:
- Use of Tableau software to allow SPO managers to actively monitor all new awards and modifications of existing awards received from sponsors.
- Tracking the time it takes SPO to process an award from the date the official award notice is received from the sponsor (not the date the PI receives informal notice from a program officer) until the award is transmitted to Contracts and Grants Accounting.
- Involving the PI and the department/unit in conversations about risk related to problematic terms as a way to speed negotiations.
- Clarifying the fund advance process to enable PIs to begin project activities while waiting for the award paperwork to be processed.
- Expediting certain “simple awards” that do not require negotiation and do not have compliance issues by transmitting these awards directly to the SPO Records Management Team for set up and transmission to CGA.
- SPO has posted on its website an award set-up processing time dashboard to enable PIs to see the average time it takes to process an award from a variety of different sponsors.
However, the reality is that awards that do require negotiation to protect the interests of the PI, the PI’s unit/department and the University will require the time and effort of a SPO CGO. The current reduction in SPO FTE will therefore lengthen the amount of time it takes to process more complex awards.
SPO typically processes over 3,500 proposals a year and over 1,500 new awards as well as thousands of related transactions per year. Although person to person communication is always more satisfying than searching for information on a web page, it will no longer be possible for SPO’s reduced number of Contracts and Grant Officers to answer individual PI and RA questions about the status of a specific proposal and/or award transaction in their queue.
Instead, PIs and RAs will need to use Phoebe Search. Phoebe Search has been improved and can now provide PIs and RAs with basic information on the status of any particular proposal and/or award as well as what administrative staff in BRS RA and SPO are responsible for the transaction. Guidance on how to make the best use of Phoebe Search is now available.
SPO also has reorganized and renamed the document used to transmit award information to PIs and RAs. The new Phoebe Award Summary or PAS is generated when SPO has completed its work on an award or award modification. The new PAS now has information that the PI needs at the top where it is easier to locate.
When the PAS is received the PI will now know that two additional steps need to be taken before he/she can expend project funds: (1) BRS RA needs to upload the project budget and (2) CGA needs to set up the fund.