Research F.A.Q.s

General Questions:

Q: What is Western Carolina University’s Tax ID number?
A: 56-6001440

Q: What is Western Carolina University’s DUNS number?
A: 06-630-0039

Q. When do I contact the Office of Research Administration (ORA) vs. the Office of Grants & Contracts (OGC)?
A. The ORA conducts all pre-award activities, from the pre-proposal stage to the receipt and processing of the award, up to the point of the establishment of your award. The OGC handles spending account set up in Banner and all post-award expenditure and financial compliance activities.


RAMSeS Electronic Submission Questions:

Q: What is RAMSeS?
A: RAMSeS (Research Administration Management System and electronic Submission) is WCU’s official proposal tracking and award management system. It is used to create and manage the official University records for all sponsored projects. Each record contains both financial and compliance information necessary for submission as well as financial management once an award has been made.

All proposals requesting funding for a grant, contract or cooperative agreement, whether submitted electronically or via hardcopy, must be submitted for internal approval through RAMSeS.

Q: Why does the Office of Research Administration require that the entire Application packet be submitted and attached in RAMSeS?
A: The Office of Research Administration reviews various information on the proposal such as, but not limited to, research compliance issues, whether costs are allowable, allocable, and reasonable; if cost sharing is required, if F&A requirements of the sponsor are being met; as well as verifying that sponsor requirements and University guidelines and objectives are being met. Information concerning sponsor type, funding source, and other variables are entered and tracked by the Office of Research Administration reporting purposes.

Q: How much time is needed by the Office of Research Administration to process a proposal in RAMSeS?
A: Your proposal package needs to be in the Research Administration Office and/or RAMSes bucket a minimum of five (5) business days prior to deadline. This time is needed to process a proposal to allow for appropriate review and to obtain corrections, if needed. For this reason, it is always better to consult with the Research Administration Office when you decide to apply for a grant as our staff can help you plan for any issues that might arise before submission, making the process smooth and without need for corrections at the last minute.



Submission Requirement Questions:

Q: Why is an electronic approval required by WCU before submission if the sponsor doesn't require a signature on the sponsor proposal application form?
A: This is to assure compliance. University policy states that all proposals for funding must be signed by the University’s Signatory Authority for external funding, our Chief Research Officer or his/her authorized representative, certifying that: a) it meets the University’s mission(s) objectives and stated sponsor’s solicitation requirements; b) awards will be performed within constraints of the grant or contract terms and conditions; and, c) the University will maintain, or implement if necessary, operational policies and procedural standards that comply with appropriate federal policies or regulations.

Q: Who is authorized to sign grants and contracts on behalf of Western Carolina University?
A: The University’s Signatory Authority for external funding is our Chief Research Officer.

Q: Is it permissible for the principal investigator, department chair or dean to sign the contract agreement?
A: No, the Board of Trustees is the only body with that authority for the institution and, as such, has delegated the University’s Signatory Authority for external funding to be the Chief Research Officer or his/her duly authorized representative.


Compliance/IRB Questions:

Q. What do you mean by “regulatory compliance”?
A. All research, funded or unfunded, are subject to the regulations and guidelines that govern activities that involve human participants and/or their information (ethics), animals (animal care), bio/hazardous materials (toxins, pathogens, transgenic plants, etc.), and technology and/or information related to national security (controlled goods). Our institution has a responsibility to our students, faculty and to the sponsors of the research activities to maintain strict compliance with these regulations and guidelines. (See Research Policies and Procedures and IRB.)

Q: What action is required if “Yes” is answered to human subject, animal subject, or hazardous materials involvement in the “Research Subjects” tab in RAMSeS?
A: Complete a Human Subjects Research IRB form, sign it and have your faculty advisor sign it (if appropriate) and send it to Research Administration, 110 Camp Building to the attention of the IRB Chair. Be sure to carefully review the Self Checklist for Investigators, attach any supporting documentation, and have any co-investigators sign the request form as well.
Faculty Release/Effort Reporting Questions:

Q: How do you calculate course buy-out for grants? When is it okay for a faculty member to buy-out time for research? How do you calculate faculty release time?
A: Contact the Office of Research Administration before any calculations are included in your proposal. Any buy-outs of courses and/or release time must be approved by your department chair and dean- calculations may be handled within your department.

Q: What is Effort on a grant, contract or cooperative agreement?
A: Effort is the percentage of time engaged in particular Work-Related Activities such as sponsored projects, instruction, proposal preparation, or other administrative duties. Effort is not based on a 40-hour work week, but it is calculated as a percentage based on the total time spent on work-related duties for specific period of time. (Note: Effort cannot total more than 100% for any reason.)

Q: What is Effort Reporting?
A: Effort Reporting is a mechanism used to provide a sponsoring agency with a reasonable assurance that salaries charged and/or cost shared to a sponsored project are appropriate and reflect a reasonable estimation of the actual time engaged in project activities (relative to the individual’s total activities performed for the university). It is the most audited area of grant activity and, therefore, the most important to report accurately when developing proposals as well as reporting on grants.


Budget Questions:

Q: What is a cooperative agreement? How is this different from a grant? Does it make any difference in the budget?
A: There are three types of funding agreements: contracts, grants and cooperative agreements. Federal/government agencies determine the particular type of agreement to be issued under guidelines based on whether the agency is approaching it as a “Procurement” or a “Financial Assistance” action. There is no impact on the budget development process regardless of agreement type. Cooperative agreements are used when the government's purpose is to assist the intermediary in providing goods or services to the authorized recipient, rather than to acquire an intermediary's services, which may ultimately be delivered to an authorized recipient.

Q: What is the F&A Cost (also referred to as Indirect Cost) Rate?
A: The F&A (facilities and administrative) rate is a method that the federal government has implemented to help reimburse many types of routine, but at times unrecognized, costs that support a project. These costs are difficult to assign with a degree of precision as are the more obvious "direct" costs, or without significant accounting processes (and additional costs) to administer. Electricity, for example, to support research in the lab, would be unfeasible to attempt to charge as a direct cost to each project that may be undertaken in the lab. Access to the building, furnishings, and general equipment all provide support to various projects, yet being able to distribute those costs as a direct cost again is unfeasible. The F&A rate is, thus far, the most practical method of allocating a variety of costs to a sponsored project. 
 
Q: What is the current F&A Cost Rate?
A: The F&A (facilities and administrative) rate is based on an agreement with Western's cognizant federal agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. The current F&A Rate Agreement, available via the link below, is valid through December, 2016. Projects that were awarded previous to the establishment of the current rate will continue at the old rate unless additional funds are requested for that grant or cooperative agreement. Read more about the F&A cost rate above; download the current  F&A (facilities and administrative) rate (PDF).

Q: Why must my proposal budget include F&A on Subawards?
A: Not all costs related to subcontracts are borne by the subcontractor. WCU has to negotiate the terms of the subcontract, monitor any flow down provisions, and ensure that the University is covered legally. The department has to prepare a purchase requisition which results in Purchasing sending a Purchase Order to the subcontractee. The PI is responsible for ensuring that the terms of the subcontracts are met. Accounts Payable has to prepare payments related to the invoices generated by the subcontractees. And finally, Sponsored Projects has to ensure that the sponsor requirements for subcontracts have been met and that terms of the F&A charges have been applied to the subcontract according to the initial award.

Q: Are Participant Support Costs excluded from F&A cost calculations?
A: When preparing proposal budget/financial plans, several budget categories are excluded when arriving at the base amount to which the appropriate F&A rate is applied (see definition from NSF Grant Proposal Guide below).

(v) Participant Support (Line F on the Proposal Budget):

This budget category refers to costs of transportation, per diem, stipends and other related costs for participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with NSF-sponsored conferences, meetings, symposia, training activities and workshops." (See GPG chapter II.D.7). For some educational projects conducted at local school districts, however, the participants being trained are employees. In such cases, the costs must be classified as participant support if payment is made through a stipend or training allowance method. The school district must have an accounting mechanism in place (i.e., sub-account code) to differentiate between regular salary and stipend payments. Generally, indirect costs (F&A) are not allowed on participant support costs. The number of participants to be supported must be entered in the parentheses on the proposal budget. These costs also must be justified in the budget justification section of the proposal. Some programs, such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates, have special instructions for treatment of participant support.

In the absence of a sponsor specific restriction, the budget category of participant support should not be excluded from the F&A base. The exclusion of participant support is a National Science Foundation specific policy. If uncertain, review announcement guidelines to determine applicability.

Q: When can faculty release time be counted as cost sharing? What determines when faculty release time can and cannot be included in the grant or cost sharing?
A: Refer to the sponsor’s announcement or guidelines to determine requirements regarding cost sharing. Unless cost sharing is required by the sponsor’s announcement, most federal agencies do not allow or expect the University to volunteer cost sharing of faculty release time, or other items of cost for cost sharing.

Q: What is Modified Total Direct Cost?
A: Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC) is determined by subtracting the cost of equipment, tuition, fellowships, and subcontract amounts over $25,000 from the total direct costs to determine the F&A base, to which the applicable F&A rate is applied.

Q: How do I calculate the F&A on subcontracts?
A: F&A costs are calculated on the first $25,000 of each subcontract.

Q: Can general office supplies, i.e. telephone, paper, toner, clerical assistance, etc., be included as “supplies” on grants? It has always been my understanding that these costs are the price of doing business and should come from the indirect cost. Which is correct?
A: Office supplies (pens, paper, notebooks, clips, stamps, envelopes, ink cartridges/copying toner, local telephone service, even clerical duties, etc.) are those costs that are incurred for usual activities of the university and, therefore, cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project. While one can easily recognize that a notepad might be “needed” for a research project, it cannot be tracked and reported separately from usual university use. Therefore the federal cost principles expect the University to normally absorb these charges by unrestricted operational accounts and recover those costs through the indirect cost (F&A) reimbursement process. This expectation holds true even where in some cases the federal sponsor imposes F&A rate restrictions on certain grant programs.

The F&A recovery process generate revenue dollars for the University as the sponsored projects are invoiced. It is these revenues that “replenish” the departmental (State) funded accounts from which the departmental supplies, services, and clerical support were charged. From this perspective, it should not be difficult to understand why the Federal cost principles expect the University to be reimbursed by the F&A cost recovery process, and not by direct charging these costs to a project.

There are exceptions to the rule. A major project requiring a full time clerical employee could possibly be an extraordinary circumstance, thus justifying the direct charging of clerical salaries to the project. Other examples, as provided from OMB A-21 Circular’s Exhibit C are provided below.

• Projects that involve extensive data collection, analysis and entry, tabulation, cataloging, literature search and reporting (such as epidemiological studies, clinical trials, and retrospective clinical records studies).
• Projects that require the arrangements of travel and meetings for large numbers of participants, such as conferences and seminars.
• Projects of which the principal focus is the preparation and production of manuals and large reports, books and monographs (excluding routine progress and technical reports).
• Projects geographically inaccessible to normal departmental or administrative services, such as research vessels, radio astronomy projects, and other research field sites that are remote from campus.
• Individual projects requiring specific database management; individualized graphics or manuscript preparation; human or animal protocols; and multiple project-related investigator coordination and communications.
These examples are not exhaustive and each project or direct cost situation can present unique challenges so you should work with the Research Administration Office closely in the development of your budget to insure that your costs are appropriately budgeted before you submit your proposal.

Q: What items should be included in the “equipment” section of the budget?
A: The University defines “equipment” as any tangible, nonexpendable property having: (1) A useful life of two years, and, (2) an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per unit. Items not meeting these two conditions are not to be classified as, and should not be placed in, the equipment category.

Q: If something is listed as not being “allowable” as a grant cost, but it has been specifically listed in the work/budget plan that is submitted and approved by the sponsor, can it be purchased anyway?
A: In some proposal reviews, as a result of the imposition of the Cost Accounting Standards (CAS), federal sponsors may no longer perform in-depth reviews of proposal budgets. Under CAS, the federal agencies expect the applicant to be familiar with the A-21 Cost Principles and to exclude non-allowed costs from those budgets. As a result, Universities cannot depend on the “rationalization” that since the sponsor did not remove it from the awarded budget that, in fact, the sponsor has “approved” that cost item. You should prepare with your budget a separate page entitled “Budget Justification” in which those non-routine or normally non-allowed expenses are identified and specifically justified for the project. Then the sponsor must make the decision based upon the circumstances of the stated justification. Upon approval, you are assured that your expenditures are allowed.

Q: Is an itemized budget required by ORA on NIH programs that only need a modular budget?
A: Although NIH has adopted the modular budget format for budgets of $250,000 per year and less, Western Carolina University, as do many universities, requires a detailed itemized budget for internal purposes. Under Cost Accounting Standards (CAS), the burden is on the University to apply costs consistently. Without a detailed budget, the Research Administration Office does not have any way to assure costs are in compliance with general CAS. The benefit to developing a detailed budget is that you will be ready to establish your account once your award is received!

Q: What is “cost share”? Is the requirement for cost sharing and the amount required always established by the sponsor?
A: There are two terms, “matching” and “cost sharing,” that are often used interchangeably. “Cost Sharing/matching” is used when the sponsor has specified a particular dollar to dollar (or ratio) requirement which you are to supply for the grant project from other sources in order to receive the sponsor funding, i.e., the sponsor has essentially established what the applicant will share. “Cost sharing/matching” therefore refers to any portion of the project’s costs not borne by the sponsor. For Western Carolina University’s purposes, all cost sharing is accomplished either as a cash outlay (an expenditure) or as waived F&A costs.
Tips to determine allowability for federal cost sharing or matching:
• The cost share must have been included in the sponsor’s approved budget;
• The cost item must first be of the type allowed by A-21 Cost Principles;
• The cost item must be necessary and reasonable for project performance;
• The cost item must be verifiable (e.g., by official accounting records);
• The cost item must provide an obvious benefit to the project;
• The cost item cannot be used as cost sharing on another federal project simultaneously.
All of the above conditions must be met in order for a cost item to be claimed or proposed as cost sharing or matching. The concept of “in-kind” cost sharing means that the University is to receive from an entity or individual - other than the sponsoring agency or the University’s own sources — items such as services and supplies through a process in which no cash transaction takes place.


Award Set Up Questions:

Q. I have received a Notice of Award, now what happens?
A. Receiving your fully executed award document from the Office of Research Administration indicates that a staffing will be scheduled with you and our support team to discuss how to manage your award funds. (Keep in mind that our team is here for you every step of the way and we will be available for your questions and concerns throughout the project.) After that staffing is held, your award will be set up in Banner by the Office of Grants and Contracts- see below.

Q. When will my Banner account be set up?
A. Banner accounts are created by the Office of Grants and Contracts after receiving fully executed grant and contract documents from the Office of Research Administration. ORA sends a congratulatory letter through email to the PI, the business manager, and GCO when the award has been formally accepted. The Banner account is generally created within 10 business days from the date of this email notification - after the award staffing has been held.

Q. How will I know when my Banner account has been set up?
A. As the PI, you and the business manager will receive an internal “Notice of Banner Codes Assignment” message through email from the Grants and Contracts Office when the account has been established. Once established, you are ready to begin your expenditures.

 

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