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Frequently Asked Questions

Organization

What is the difference between the Office of Research and Research/Cost Accounting?

 

Office of Research

 

Preaward Activities
The Office of Research provides funding source information, guidance on proposal writing, final pre-submission proposal review, negotiation and acceptance of awards on behalf of the University.

Research/Cost Accounting

 

Post Award Activities
The Research/Cost Accounting Office activates projects and sets up projects for all accepted sponsored projects in the University’s Oracle financial system; provides customer service on agency rules and regulations to PIs, department and central administration; handles all sponsor invoicing, preparation of financial reports for sponsors, payment collections and project closeouts.

Why are these two offices separate?

 

The University of Pittsburgh is a very large research institution. The model for the centralized research administration functions used by our institution is set up to maintain internal control systems. The Provost manages all preaward activities as this a major activity involving faculty seeking external funding. The Chief Financial Officer manages all post award activities as this is a major financial function involving the financial statements of the University.

The Research/Cost Accounting Office and the Office of Research work very closely together on sponsored projects issues.

Contacts

How do I know whom to contact for matters related to preaward activities?

 

As mentioned above, the Office of Research handles all preaward activities. The website http://www.pitt.edu/~offres/ lists the names of staff members in the About Us section that work with various departments in the University. The staff name, phone number and e-mail address is available.

How do I know whom to contact for matters related to post award activities?

 

As mentioned above, the Research/Cost Accounting Office handles all post award activities. The website http://www.bc.pitt.edu/rca/ra_assignments.html lists the Research Accounting staff and the departments they are assigned to. The staff directory gives the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of these individuals.

Who do I contact for documentation on charges I cannot recognize on a project?

 

A query on the batch name should be done in Oracle (PRISM). Contact the person listed in the Prepared By field for the batch. That person will be able to give the detailed information.

Project Account Numbers

How do I get an early account number?

 

It is appropriate to request an early account number when a department is assured that funding will be forthcoming. An early account number ideally will be set up the month before or the actual month that a project would be starting.

The early account (ea) number form is on the Office of Research website along with instructions on what is needed to receive an ea number. The signatures of the department head and/or Dean signifies that the department takes responsibility for all costs if an award does not come through.

How long does it take to receive a project number in the Oracle Financial system?

 

Once a sponsored project award agreement has been signed off by the Office of Research and all appropriate paperwork has been accumulated and forwarded to Research/Cost Accounting, a project number will be assigned within 72 hours or less.

A copy of the activation report (RPAR105) will be mailed to the designated person at the department the day after the activation occurs. If a department needs immediate information on a project number arrangements can be made through the department ’s Research Accountant.

Do the sponsored project account numbers have any meaning or are they just
sequential?

 

A numbering system has been developed using the first two digits of the six-digit project number to designate a funding source:
NSF 01XXXX; Dept. of Education 07XXXX; NIH 10XXXX and 11XXXX; Other federal 40XXXX; State & Local Govt. 60XXXX; Foundations and Companies 70XXXX; and Pharmaceuticals 90XXXX.

The last four digits are sequential as new awards come in.

Payments on Sponsored Projects

Where are cash payments to be received for sponsored projects?

 

All cost reimbursable and installment invoice payments for sponsored projects are to be mailed to the Research/Cost Accounting bank lockbox:

 

University of Pittsburgh
PO Box 371220
Pittsburgh, PA 15251-7220


What do I do with a check received in my office for a sponsored project?

 

Any check received by a department should be hand carried to the Research/Cost Accounting Office on the 31st floor of the Cathedral of Learning so that funds can be sent to the bank the same day.

If check is for a reimbursement of an expense on a project, a memo should accompany the check giving the sponsored project expense number.

Checks should never be held by a department as the possibility of losing a check increases each day it is held and the possibility of a check becoming stale dated can occur.

How do I know if an agency has paid all invoices on a cost reimbursable agreement?

 

The monthly summary financial statement for each project (RPAR001) lists what has been billed and what has been received as payments.

Subcode 1200 represents the amount the sponsor has been billed.
Subcode 1202 represents the amount the sponsor has paid to date.
The net of these two numbers will give the balance the agency owes.

Why does our department sometimes receive a copy of a collection letter to an agency?

 

When a sponsor hesitates in paying the University, automated letters print weekly for unpaid invoices that reach either 90 or 120 days old. A copy of the letter sent to the sponsor is also sent to the PI and the department administrator so that they may assist in the collection process. Frequently PIs can make phone calls to colleagues at the agency to find out why payment has not been issued.

Cost Sharing

What is cost sharing?

 

Cost sharing is a sponsor requirement for the University to share in the actual costs of a sponsored project. Sponsors will usually require cost sharing when they want to assure that the University has a vested interest in a project.

When is it appropriate to cost share?

 

Cost sharing should only occur if a sponsor requires it and the academic leader (Dean or Director) of an academic unit sets aside funds to meet the actual costs of cost sharing should an award be made to the University.

It is inappropriate to volunteer cost sharing if it is not required by a sponsor as voluntary cost sharing, when committed by documenting the cost share in the award proposal, becomes mandatory if an award is made.

How does a department account for cost sharing?

 

The Dean or Director will provide an Oracle account number that holds the cost sharing funds. The department PI and project manager need to charge costs to this account number and monitor the correctness of the costs so that cost sharing can be reported at the end of the project.

Effort Reporting

How long do we have to make SPAR adjustments?

 

The Effort Reporting Guideline on the University’s website discusses the requirements of effort reporting at the University. Basically, SPAR adjustments should be done immediately upon knowledge of a significant change in percentage of effort above 5% by any person required to do effort reporting.

SPAR adjustments are allowed within a certification period. Once certified, adjustments cease. Change in SPARs cannot be done to closed sponsored projects even though adjustment would be in the certification period.

Why do salary costs to a sponsored project sometimes get charged to our department 02 account?

 

Sponsored projects are closed within 90 to 120 days after the end date of the project period. Sometimes SPARs have not been appropriately changed to record the appropriate effort of personnel. When payroll charges are trying to be recorded on a closed project, the payroll system automatically places the unallowable charge on the department’s 02 account.

Sponsored Projects Compliance Issues

Why can’t departments continue spending on a project while waiting for a new project number?

 

All sponsored projects have begin and end dates. There is a 90 day allowable period after a project ends for costs allowable to the project period to be recorded in the University’s financial system. This regulation comes from the federal circulars and guidelines the University is required to abide by. No other costs are allowable to the project account and must either be charged to an early account number or to entity 02 or 04 funds while waiting for a new project number.

Why isn’t the department notified when a Research Accountant is writing off an overdraft?

 

Departments receive monthly notices on projects that have overspent the project budgets. The overdraft procedure in place by the Research/Cost Accounting Department is well publicized on the website http://www.bc.pitt.edu/rca/ra_mspa.html It is expected that department administrators will familiarize themselves with the process and thus be informed.

Why do non salary cost transfers have to be done within 90 days after the cost is on University level reports?

 

The University is again obligated to follow the federal regulations specific to OMB Circular A-110 and the NIH Grants Policy Statement. The 90 day rule is within these guidelines.

Why isn’t the department “shadow system” considered the official record of the University?

 

Circular A-21 requires that the University have an official financial system that meets the requirements for recording and reporting expenditures in a compliant and consistent manner. The Oracle financial system meets this requirement and is therefore considered the official financial record of the University.

Why does Research/Cost Accounting return funds on a sponsored project?

 

Most sponsored projects at the University are cost reimbursable. The University can not legally retain any funds that are paid by a sponsor above and beyond the amount of the actual costs of a project and thus are returned within a timely manner. The Research/Cost Accounting Guideline on Residual Funds at
http://www.bc.pitt.edu/policies/index.html gives further details on this practice.

University Negotiated Rates

How do I know what the current indirect cost rates are?

 

Federally approved indirect cost rates are communicated annually to the University community via the official 3D list (Deans, Directors and Department Heads). They may also be found on the Cost Accounting website http://www.bc.pitt.edu/rca/ca_rateinfo.html

How do I know what the current fringe benefit rates are?

 

Fringe benefit rates are negotiated and approved by the federal government on an annual basis. Federally approved fringe benefit rates are communicated annually to the University community via the official 3D list (Deans, Directors and Department Heads). The fringe benefit rates are documented on the same website as listed above for current indirect cost rates.

Agency Regulations

Where does a department go for information on regulations from the federal government on sponsored project activities?

 

Both the Research Accounting and Cost Accounting websites have links to all pertinent federal regulations. Web address is http://www.bc.pitt.edu/rca/index.html

What regulations apply to my job?

 

All federal, agency specific and University regulations apply to every person at
the University working with sponsored projects. We all have the responsibility to self educate ourselves in this regard.

University Processes and Procedures

Where does a department obtain information on University policies and procedures related to sponsored project activities?

 

The University website has a Policies, Procedures and Handbooks website that posts this information. The web address is http://www.bc.pitt.edu/policies/index.html

How does a department obtain access to doing cost transfers on line into the Oracle financial system?

 

The FIS PRISM information is on this website http://www.bc.pitt.edu/prism/ . For training, click on the training schedule to obtain information on the persons in IS to contact for obtaining training and access to Oracle.

Closing Projects

What are departmental responsibilities for closing out a project?

 

Sponsors require financial reports anywhere from 30 to 90 days after the end date of a sponsored project. Departments are required to present a closing memo to the Research/Cost Accounting Department within half of the days – 15 to 45 days. This closing lists all allowable costs and credits to a project to close it financially. Research/Cost Accounting will prepare the financial report based on the closing memo.

Departments also have responsibility for submitting technical reports to the sponsor. Other reporting requirements may be invention statements, equipment inventories or other sponsor related requests. All these requirements must be submitted within the 30 to 90 day period after the end date of the project.

How do I know a project will be closing?

 

90 days before the end of a project period, a notice (RPAR450) prints automatically and is mailed to the department with the RPAR001 project financial summary and states that the project will end in 30 days.

In addition, departments are responsible for monitoring the end dates of all projects in their area so that appropriate closing procedures can be followed.

Why do departments only have 45 days after the end date of a project to prepare a closing memo for a project that has ended?

 

The Research/Cost Accounting Department has the full responsibility for financial reporting to sponsors. There are a vast number of reports due monthly and the Research Accountants (RA) are required to meet all sponsor reporting deadlines. Due to the volume of reports, RAs need the remaining 45 days to complete all work.

In extenuating circumstances, departments may request an extension of days from their Research Accountant, however, even with an approved extention, closing reports should always be sent before 65 days after closing.

What happens when we have requested a no cost extension for a project that is closing?

 

Departments are required to request no cost extensions well before the end date of a project – preferably 60 days prior to closing. An agency’s written approval of a no cost extension should be faxed to the Office of Research and to Research/Cost Accounting (R/CA) immediately upon receipt.

If an approval has not been received in R/CA before the required reporting date, R/CA will report to the agency.

It is critical to make certain that R/CA has some agency notification that a project will be extended – an e-mail from an authoritative person at an agency pending further written notification will suffice to keep a project open for a limited amount of time.

Audits Related to Sponsored Projects

What type of audits occur at the University?

 

Audits are performed by the University Internal Audit Department as well as by external auditors from CPA firms or agency specific auditors. Audits can be related to specific programs – financial and technical - in form of preaward, post award or close out audits. Some audits are required annually while others are performed sporadically by various agencies.

The federal government requires an annual A-133 audit that is performed by KPMG for the University.

What procedures should I follow when approached by an auditor asking for information?

 

Any auditor performing an audit will have informed the appropriate people in an organization according to the chain of command . If you are not certain if there is an audit being conducted, contact the administration of your organization to determine if you are to participate in the auditor’s questioning.

All questions to an auditor should be answered with only factual accurate information and not with personal opinions. Auditors are generally checking out processes and procedures and the allowability of costs. Should you be asked questions that are outside of your area of responsibility or expertise, let the auditor know this and under no circumstances should you guess at the answer.

Document Retention

How long do I need to keep all documents associated with my sponsored project once it’s completed?

 

Federal law requires that financial documents be kept 3 years beyond the period that a final report has been submitted to an agency. If there are legal matters pending beyond the final reporting period, records must be kept until the matter is settled and it is determined that records no longer need to be retained.

The retention of technical and scientific documents have differing regulations and retention requirements are not addressed here.

How long does Central University Administration keep documents related to sponsored projects?

 

Central administration follows the rules of retention of records that at least includes keeping records for 3 years.