Behind the scenes of every successful research project at academic institutions, there is a dedicated team that secures funding, prepares proposals, and effectively manages grants. The Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) performs this crucial function. In this blog post, we will explore the primary functions and responsibilities of the OSP and explain the pivotal role it plays in facilitating research and innovation.
What is an Office of Sponsored Programs?
OSP, also called a Sponsored Programs Office or Research Administration Office, is a department within an academic institution. Its primary function is to support researchers as they secure and manage externally funded projects. To accomplish this, it acts as an intermediary between the researchers and the funding agencies, providing oversight and support. It also manages the administrative and regulatory aspects of sponsored research, enabling researchers to focus on scientific pursuits and advancements in their respective fields.
Why is this office essential?
In most cases, sponsored funds come with restrictions on use. For example federal awarding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education attach conditions to sponsored funds, which are often rigorous. Additionally, large foundations and associations (think Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Heart Association) have their own policies and accountability measures, as do local governmental agencies, smaller foundations, non-profit organizations, and private industries that participate in sponsored funding. As such, research institutions rely on units dedicated to upholding the requirements these funders set forth.
Is a Sponsored Programs Office the same at every institution?
While there are likely similarities, each office may look and act differently among institutions. For example, some administrative functions reside in a central unit, while colleges, departments, or shared service operations may manage other functions internally. Also, as mentioned, these units can go by a variety of names, such as:
- Sponsored Programs
- Grants & Contracts
- Grant Accounting
- Research Administration
- Research Advancement & Scholarship
Despite these differences, the OSP provides support and oversight for pre-and post-award activities across the grant lifecycle. The typical grant lifecycle, as shown below, has several phases that must integrate seamlessly for efficient and effective award management. Research administrative staff work to support grant proposal development, review, and submission; award receipt and negotiation; and post-award management through award closeout.
Key Areas of Responsibility
Let’s take a closer look at the core responsibilities of this office:
1) Proposal & Budget Development
One of the primary responsibilities of the OSP is to support researchers in preparing and submitting competitive grant proposals. The Office assists in understanding the funding agency’s guidelines, which ensures compliance with regulations.
Sponsored Programs Offices also work closely with researchers to develop accurate and realistic budgets for research projects. They help identify and allocate costs appropriately, ensuring that proposal budgets account for all expenses and align with the funding agency’s requirements. By providing guidance on budget planning, they increase the chances of securing funding and help to ensure that a proposal’s financial viability.
2) Proposal Review & Submission
The OSP reviews proposals for accuracy and clarity. Additionally, team members within the office facilitate the proposal submission process, including electronic submission through a portal or directly to the sponsor.
3) Award Receipt & Negotiation
When a sponsor awards a grant, the OSP plays a vital role in negotiating the terms and conditions of the contract between the institution and the funding agency. They review the award documents, negotiate contractual terms, and facilitate legal and financial compliance. Once they complete the negotiation, they coordinate the acceptance of the award on behalf of the institution.
4) Award Management
Throughout the lifecycle of a sponsored project, the OSP supports researchers in effectively managing awarded grants. They assist with fiscal management, including budget monitoring, expense tracking, and financial reporting to the funding agency. They also provide guidance on project modifications, reporting requirements, and ensure the institution meets project milestones.
Additionally, Sponsored Programs Offices ensure that researchers adhere to institutional and governmental regulations. This also extends to ethical considerations and relevant policies. The OSP also monitors research expenditures related to compliance with human subject research, animal subject research, financial conflicts of interest and export control. This oversight helps to safeguard the integrity and ethical conduct of the research.
5) Award Closeout
The OSP plays a critical role in managing the award closeout process, ensuring that the institution meets all financial, reporting, and administrative requirements. By effectively managing the closeout activities, the Office supports researchers and institutions as they conclude projects in a compliant and organized manner. This helps to maintain positive relationships with funding agencies, keeping the door open for future funding opportunities.
Training and Education
In addition to the above, Sponsored Programs Offices offer training programs to the research teams they serve, along with workshops, and resources. Topics may include research administration, grant writing, fiscal management, and compliance. These educational initiatives equip researchers with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of sponsored research. Having researchers well versed on protocols and expectations strengthens the research team and promotes compliance, which makes the OSP more effective in its role.
As we have shown, the OSP plays a critical role in facilitating research and innovation. It supports researchers throughout the entire lifecycle of sponsored projects, including proposal development, grant management, and closeout. As a result, the expertise and guidance of the OSP helps to ensure compliance, financial viability, and successful project outcomes. This enables researchers to focus on research without taking on the additional burden of managing sponsored funds. The work of these unsung heroes behind the scenes deserves appreciation for their contribution to the research community, and to the institutions they support.
For a broader view research administration, including other roles and departmental functions, be sure to read our blog post Research Administration: the Best Job of All.
Ultimately, research administrative staff must collaborate with each other, investigators, other campus divisions, collaborating organizations, and sponsors for successful outcomes.
A shared understanding of roles and responsibilities along the lifecycle is key for effective project administration. To learn more about pre-and post-award administrative functions, keep an eye on Streamlyne News for the upcoming blog, “What is the Difference Between Pre- and Post-Award?”