Services Agreements

Office of Sponsored Programs vs. Purchasing Services


Under sponsored research projects, different administrative and audit requirements exist for subrecipients (financial assistance) and vendors (procurement actions). Because of these differences, University agreements must be channeled through and administered by either the Office of Sponsored Programs or the Purchasing Services Department. Determining which of these two offices should handle the agreement is sometimes difficult. In general, consideration must be given to the substance of the relationship between the University and the third party receiving the funds. 

The Office of Sponsored Programs is responsible for issuing subawards from prime agreements (contract, grant, or cooperative agreement) awarded to the University. Purchasing Services is responsible for issuing service agreements for goods and services from contractors. All characteristics described below may not be present and good judgment should be used in determining the appropriate third party relationship.

Subrecipient or Supplier

The United States Code of Federal Regulations, Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter II, Part 200 (the “Uniform Guidance”) attempts to distinguish between subrecipients and suppliers (also known as "contractors"), thus §_200.330(c) states:

“(c) Use of judgment in making determination. In determining whether an agreement between a pass-through entity and another non-federal entity casts the latter as a subrecipient or a contractor, the substance of the relationship is more important than the form of the agreement.”


“…the pass-through entity must use judgment in classifying each agreement as a subaward or a procurement contract.”

The Uniform Guidance §200.330 outlines the differences between subrecipients and suppliers in addition to the following table:

Office of Sponsored Programs versus Purchasing Services Department
Differences Between Subrecipients and Suppliers

Office of Sponsored Programs– manages agreements with subrecipients

Subrecipient Relationship


Purchasing Services – manages agreements with suppliers (contractors)

Supplier Relationship

Issued by Office of Sponsored Programs

  • Performs substantive, programmatic work in an intellectually significant way
  • Has an identified Principal Investigator (PI) who serves as the Pitt co-investigator on an externally-funded award
  • Responsible for adherence to terms and conditions flowed down from Pitt's external sponsor
  • Performs work that may result in intellectual property development or publishable results, including co-authorship

Services Agreements or Purchase Orders
Issued by Purchasing Services

  • Performs specific services ancillary to the operation of the sponsored project
  • Does not have much or any independent decision making for design and implementation of the sponsored project
  • Responsible for deliverables, that if not satisfactorily completed, may result in withholding of payment or requirement to redo the work
  • Has no expectation of retaining intellectual property or authoring/co-authoring publications

Uniform Guidance §_200.330(a) states that:

A subaward is for the purpose of carrying out a portion of a federal award and creates a federal assistance relationship with the subrecipient. 

Characteristics that support the classification of the non-federal entity as a subrecipient include whom the non-federal entity:

Uniform Guidance §_200.330(b) states that:

A contract is for the purpose of obtaining goods and services for the non-federal entity’s own use and creates a procurement relationship with the contractor.

Characteristics indicative of a procurement relationship between the non-federal entity and a contractor are when the contractor:


Determines who is eligible to receive which type of federal assistance.

Provides goods and services within normal business operations.

Has its performance measured in relation to whether the objectives of the federal program are met.

Provides similar goods and services to many different purchasers.

Has responsibility for programmatic decision making.

Normally operates in a competitive environment.

Is responsible for adherence to applicable federal program requirements specified in the federal award.

Provides goods or services that are ancillary to the operation of the federal program.

Uses the federal funds to carry out a program of the organization as compared to providing goods and services for a program of the pass-through entity.

Is not subject to compliance requirements of the federal program.

Contact the Office of Sponsored Programs at
412-624-7400 or the Grant or Contract Officer assigned to your department.

For goods purchases, follow the Requisition Checklist. For services purchases, follow the Services Agreement Checklist.

How to initiate a request for a new subaward or services agreement:

If the third party relationship has the characteristics of a subrecipient, complete the Subaward Agreement Request through the Office of Sponsored Programs.

If the third party relationship has the characteristics of a contractor, go to PantherExpress to initiate a services agreement.

The Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) is charged with assisting faculty, staff, and students in their efforts to secure sponsored research funding. In its role within the University’s research infrastructure, OSP reviews, negotiates, endorses, and provides administrative oversight related to proposals and awards, as well as for non-financial agreements for acquiring materials, information, and/or data, in accordance with applicable laws, policies, and regulations. Through coordination with other University administrative offices, OSP works collaboratively on its sponsored research activities.

Purchasing Services’ mission is to obtain the overall best value for purchases of goods and services University-wide; provide efficient, effective purchasing processes; assist departments in complying with federal, state and local laws; implement a system of sound internal controls, and monitor compliance; provide opportunities for Diverse Business Enterprises, and; provide excellent customer service to the University community. Purchasing Services analyzes departmental spending patterns to identify opportunities or savings and assists departments with specialized or complex purchases.

Please note, agreements sent to either the Office of Sponsored Programs or Purchasing Services may be referred to the other department after review.

Consult Purchasing Guides for instructions on purchasing goods, services, and event-related reservations.


Copyright © | Financial Information Systems | Revised: 23-Jan-2020