Uniform Guidance Overview
Uniform Guidance is the new rule book for federally funded sponsored projects administration. It replaces previous Office of Management and Budget circulars and streamlines the federal government’s guidance on administrative requirements, cost principles, and audit requirements for federal awards. In particular, OMB’s Uniform Guidance:
- Removes previous guidance that is conflicting and establishes standard language;
- Directs the focus of audits on areas that have been identified as at risk for waste, fraud and abuse;
- Lays the groundwork for Federal agencies to standardize the processing of data;
- Clarifies and updates cost reporting guidelines for award recipients.
Uniform Guidance impacts these specific areas:
- Procurement Standards
- Computer Purchases
- Clerical and Administrative Salaries
- Participant and Recruiting Costs
- Cost Sharing
- Reporting and Closeouts
Under appropriate conditions computing devices can be purchased as supplies and need not be listed separately in budgets. The conditions include that the device must be essential to and directly related to the project. However, it is not necessary for the device to be used exclusively on the project.
If the equipment meets the threshold for capital equipment at USU (over $5,000) it should be purchased under that budget line item. You should also consider whether the project would otherwise have reasonable access to other computers that could support the project. Finally, it is important that USU treats purchases of computers consistently from one project to another. Consult with your (SPO) representative to make sure the project budget and justification is appropriately developed.
It is appropriate to purchase new computers only when necessary. If a project supports three new positions for a post-doctoral fellow and two graduate students – and there was previously only one graduate student in the lab –, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to purchase three computers for these employees. It might be, but if there is a relatively new computer that was used by a former graduate student (such that one of the students would have access to appropriate computing capability without purchasing a new device) then purchasing only two new computers would be appropriate. Note that making a purchase of computers in the last two or three months of a project will come under close scrutiny by an agency unless clear justification is provided.
Clerical and Administrative Salaries
When reviewing clerical/administrative salaries, consider these 4 criteria:
- Consistently Treated
The UG allows clerical and administrative salaries to be charged as direct costs to federally funded projects under limited circumstances. For charges to be allowed as direct costs, they must be:
- Associated with clerical and administrative personnel that are “integral” to the project.
- Specifically identified with the project.
- Included in the project budget, or pre-approved by the agency as direct costs.
- Not also collected as indirect costs.
Whether clerical and administrative personnel will be included in the budget will be assessed by the Sponsored Programs Office (SPO). In general, inclusion as a direct cost for administrative personnel will require that the level of effort required is clearly beyond that normally provided for a project. Parameters that might be considered could include the percentage of effort dedicated to the project, the length of time the position will be needed, the role of the individual in the project team, and the potential impact on the team if the position were not filled.
If a project involves several investigators on an international team – and the amount of interaction required among the team is high – a person with specific knowledge of the international regulatory environment or who has experience with facilitating communications among individuals with diverse languages and backgrounds, may be required. If this is the case, so long as the extent of the work was sufficient to require support on a relatively long-term basis at a substantial level of commitment (say .50 FTE or greater), it may be included in the direct costs for the project. However, an additional individual that was handling the normal work within the departmental office to support the same project would not qualify.
The uniform guidance outlines five methods of procurement:
- Small purchases
- Sealed bids
- Competitive proposals
- Noncompetitive (sold source) proposals
Some general standards apply to all five types of procurement:
- The policies surrounding the procurement must be documented.
- The procurement must be necessary.
- The procurement must be subject to full and open competition among vendors.
- The procurement can't present a conflict of interest.
Above the simplified acquisition threshold ($150,000), organizations are required to document their cost and price analysis as well as the criteria by which they selected a vendor.
The UG standard for funding opportunities to be available to the public
The UG sets a standard for funding opportunities to be available to the public for 60 days. Federal agencies may receive exceptions from this requirement from the OMB, but no notification can be available for less than 30 days under the new regulations.
Including cost-sharing requirements related to funding opportunity in the budget
The UG requires that any cost-sharing requirements related to a funding opportunity be included in a funding opportunity notification. If cost-sharing is required in the funding announcement, the university’s cost-sharing plan must be reflected in the budget. As always, all cost-sharing must be allowable under the UG’s cost principles and must be allocable to the project.
Cost-sharing in a proposal when it is not required by the agency
In general, cost sharing will not be permitted if it is not mandatory. However, in cases where key personnel on the project do not include any of their own effort in the budget, the UG includes a reference to the OMB Memorandum that requires that some effort be imputed to the project. USU will continue this required practice.
Subrecipient Monitoring and Risk Assessment
Subrecipient performance monitoring
Subrecipient monitoring has been a hot topic for agency auditors for several years. The UG requires a risk assessment be performed for all subrecipients. This function will be performed by the Sponsored Programs Office (SPO), and will require the collection and analysis of additional information. SPO will lead USU’s efforts under this requirement, in collaboration with the PI and the subrecipient.
PIs involvement in the risk assessment process
PIs and project staff are in the best position to monitor the subrecipient’s performance of technical requirements and adhering to project budgets. SPO will query PIs throughout the life of a project to identify any areas of concern that may arise.
UG guidance on closeouts
The UG guidance on closeouts is the same as OMB’s previous requirement that project documentation for closeout be submitted within 90 days of the end date of the period of performance.
Some new conditions affect closeout at the agency level, some agencies are now tracking project activity in separate subaccounts, rather than in aggregate under a letter of credit or similar arrangement. Agencies are now in a position to identify when activities are extending beyond the end date, and if documentation is not received on a timely basis, they may withhold future payments not only for the project, but for all agency funded projects.
To ensure timely closeouts the Sponsored Programs Office (SPO) and Sponsored Programs Accounting will be seeking subrecipient closeout documentation within 45 days of the end date of each project. PIs should be aware of these requirements, start the closeout process early and provide for this 45-day deadline within their project schedules.
Federal agencies recognition of USU's negotiated F&A rate
The UG requires that all federal agencies recognize an institution’s negotiated F&A rate. Federal agencies that have a statutory cap on F&A rates associated with federally funded grants and contracts will be able to continue to enforce those caps; however, agencies will no longer be able to arbitrarily set rate caps that do not allow USU to recover F&A at its negotiated rate. All deviations in payment of established F&A rates must be approved by OMB. USU will leverage this guidance with federal agencies and with state pass-through entities to capture more of its indirect costs by charging its full F&A rate.
Subrecipients F&A Rates
The UG requires that subawardees under federal awards be paid overhead costs at their negotiated F&A rate (unless the agency has a statutorily reduced F&A cap). If the subrecipient does not have an establish rate USU will pay at a rate of 10% of Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC), as allowed in the UG.