Administrators and the Responsible Conduct of Research
Tutorial: FM in Sponsored Projects

Introduction (cont.)

Sponsored project administrators, when working in either departments or the central administration are frequently called upon to make ethical decisions involving the expenditure of funds and the proper accounting of those costs. Administrative staff are directly involved in the proper management of project funds, and they are often have approval or signature authority over expenditures. As a result, while the PI is ultimately responsible for managing sponsored projects, administrative staff are delegated duties and responsibilities that place ethical decisions squarely in front of them.

Complicating the situation for department administrators is that fact that they often report to the Department Chair and work fairly closely with many faculty members. Since it is their responsibility to be aware of institution policies and procedures as well as the policies and regulations of the sponsors, they are usually the ones who have the unpleasant task of telling faculty that a desired action is inconsistent with institution or sponsor policies. Because departmental administrative staff need to maintain good working relationships with many people, and managing sponsored projects may be only one part of their responsibilities, is it any wonder that problems can arise? Sometimes the situation is even more difficult because many departments do not have funds reserved for administrative professional development, and staff can often find themselves in the unenviable position of being given responsibilities for which they have little if any training and limited opportunities to update their knowledge.

Administrative staff in the central administration have the advantage of being more independent from departmental concerns. They do not report to the Chairs or faculty and this insulates them from some pressure. However, they also face the dichotomy of being trained to be of service to faculty members and, in fact, acting as their advocate when dealing with sponsors, while at the same time being responsible for the final approval of many actions and expenditures. Therefore, those in central administration must balance the desire to be of service with the need to ensure compliance with institution and sponsor policies. In addition, they are also much more likely to be the individuals dealing with auditors and other external reviewers.

The types of issues encountered by departmental and central administrative staff are similar. It is important, however, to recognize that their perspectives may differ at times, simply because of where they work. Although they should be partners in the financial administration of sponsored projects, tensions can develop because of their different perspectives. Developing good partnerships among administrators and between administrators and faculty requires trust and respect. It is essential that all administrative staff involved in the financial management of sponsored projects, and are aware of relevant policies and procedures and able to recognize actual and potential issues that may arise. This awareness will also enable them to evaluate the options available to them.

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