Univ. alters accounting for grants

Faculty members have started to feel the effects of the federal government’s ongoing investigation into the University’s grant administration.

The investigation has prompted Yale to accelerate its plans to reform grant and contract accounting procedures. Mandatory faculty training in research administration will begin Monday, and other changes — such as how to decide which purchases can be charged to a government grant award — have been implemented over the course of the last month. Administrators said the changes are mostly procedural, but they have noticed some anxiety and uncertainty among faculty members as the full scope of the changes is not yet apparent.

The University needs to meet complex federal grant accounting rules while allowing faculty members to focus on research, Vice President for Finance and Administration Shauna King said.

“[Faculty members] don’t want this to slow down the science, and neither do we,” she said. “We firmly believe we can do what we need to in a compliant fashion.”

Mandatory training sessions for any faculty member whose work is funded by a source outside Yale will be offered multiple times through March, according to the Office of Research Administration. The hour-long sessions will cover policies and procedures related to grant accounting and reporting, though administrative staff will be responsible for carrying out most of the procedures. Attendees will later take an online quiz and must receive a passing score of at least 90 percent. Faculty members who do not attend one of the sessions and pass the quiz by June 30 will be barred from submitting new grant applications, according to a Nov. 27 letter from Provost Andrew Hamilton.

Though the training has not yet started, some researchers have already expressed dissatisfaction with the requirement, Deputy Provost Charles Long said. He said the mandatory training is a burden, but it is important to ensure that all faculty members understand the procedures better. Aside from the single training session, the ongoing changes in research administration should not have much direct impact on faculty members, he said.

“My guess is after a flurry of frustration at what looks like an increased workload, it will be back to business as usual with a little more care and better understanding,” Long said.

Sara Rockwell, director of scientific affairs at the School of Medicine, said faculty members are concerned because they do not yet know to what extent rules for research administration will change.

“They know there is increased scrutiny of cost transfers and accounting,” she said. “But I think beyond that they don’t really have a clear understanding — and I don’t either — of how things will change.”

Mandatory training sessions are nothing new for faculty members, Rockwell said, as some professors are already required to complete safety training sessions depending on their specialty. Some of the training can be repetitive, she said, citing the example of physicians who specialize in infectious diseases and must take an annual safety course in blood-borne pathogens, though some of the faculty are experts in the field.

There is a danger that new or particularly important information can be lost in the clutter, Rockwell said.

“It’s really what some faculty have called ‘death by a thousand cuts,’” she said.

A recent survey at major research institutions found that scientists who run labs spend an average of 40 percent of their time on administrative tasks instead of on research or teaching, Rockwell said.

Though the grant investigation is still in progress, it should have no effect on grant applications Yale researchers submit, Rockwell said. Applications are scored by scientists on National Institutes of Health committees, while the investigation is being handled by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as similar offices in the Department of Defense and National Science Foundation.

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