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The Principal Investigator (PI) on a sponsored project has the primary responsibility for technical and fiscal management, but the fiscal oversight is often delegated to an administrator with knowledge about the project. Standard printouts from accounting systems are often a pain point for PIs and their administrative support staff and a barrier to ongoing fiscal management.

Funding Management Is a Top Challenge

Preliminary findings from the 2018 Faculty Workload Survey conducted by the Federal Demonstration Partnership found that monitoring project finances was cited by over 90 percent of respondents as the biggest administrative burden faced by federally funded principal investigators. Those PIs ranked the need for improved transparency, accuracy and timeliness of grant expenditures balances as the highest priority for needed change.

Proper fiscal monitoring for both direct costs and cost sharing allows for validation that charges are correct or for adjustments through cost transfers to be made in a timely manner. Late costs transfers are an audit concern and are especially problematic when corrections for personnel occur after payroll or effort certifications have been made erroneously.

Most general ledger systems do not adequately encumber or track pending charges, leaving the PI and their administrative support staff to develop shadow systems that increase the likelihood of error and duplicative work. Providing PIs with user-friendly tools and support to perform this critical function makes good business sense, allowing for better spend rates, timely requests for budget reallocation and adequately justified requests for no cost extensions.

Principal Investigators Need Administrative Tools

Effective practice dictates that institutions should provide an environment and tools that facilitate proper stewardship of sponsored funds by principal investigators. Principle IV Institutional Infrastructure of the Council of Governmental Relations (COGR) Managing Externally Funded Sponsored Programs: A Guide to Effective Management Practices speaks to the collaborative support needed to ensure PIs have easy-to-use tools to help fulfill their responsibilities with minimal administrative burden.

Research administration offices have had great success in improving PI fiscal monitoring through the use of simple tools such as dashboards that pull data from the general ledger and grants management systems in an intuitive and easily understandable format. Many have developed these tools in-house, but commercial options such as Cayuse Fund Manager offer an easier and cost-efficient option.

It just makes sense to provide effective award management tools to assist PIs in monitoring costs and thus avoid over- or under-spending and making more accurate cost projections throughout the period of the award. An investment in intuitive tools will easily pay dividends in better fiscal oversight by and goodwill with researchers and their support staff.

Guest post by Susan Wyatt Sedwick of Attain LLC

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