Pre-Award Frequently Asked Questions

The following frequently asked questions are provided for researchers in the pre-award phase of their sponsored program proposal. Please contact the ORA for answers to questions not found in this FAQ.

Revised: 28 June 2022

Who can be a principal investigator on grants at ECU?

Please see 310 – PI Eligibility

What materials do I need provide the ORA in order to submit a proposal?

Please input eTRACS proposals with the following at least 10 days in advance of submission deadline:

    • Completed Setup Page
    • Pre-Review Questions Page
    • Additional Proposal Info, Page, Pre-Review Route and Attachments Page
    • Budget Page (Draft)
    • Submit for Pre-review

Please complete eTRACS proposals with the following at least 5 days in advance of submission deadline:

    • Finalized Budget Pages (as well as the remaining eTRACS pages)
    • Submit for Internal Review

Please finalize eTRACS proposals with the following at least 2 days in advance of submission deadline:

    • Final Narrative

See 325 – Proposal Submission Timeline

When there are co-principal investigators or co-project directors from more than one department, what signatures are needed?

eTRACS will route the proposal to all units affiliated with the proposal. One designated eTRACS approver in each unit will need to approve the proposal.

How long does the ORA need to process my proposal?

Proposals will be submitted to the sponsor only if all final documents are routed to ORA and unit approvals completed in eTRACS at least 2 working days prior to the sponsor’s submission deadline. Please see 325 – Proposal Submission Timeline.

If the proposal is to be submitted electronically, do I still need to complete the internal paperwork and send it to the ORA for review in advance of submission?

Yes, proposals should be routed via eTRACS.

How do I construct a budget?

Budgets are built in the eTRACS proposal development module. Include all of the possible costs of conducting the project, including personnel salaries, student assistants, supplies, equipment, travel, and other expenses. These categories are included in the module. Be sure to consult the sponsor’s instructions for guidance and any limitations. The section on Budget Preparation contains information for developing budgets. Staff will be happy to provide assistance.

How do I route a request for a no cost extension?

In the event of a no-cost extension request, when no progress report is due, please route via the Change Request Module in eTRACS.

My project requires cost sharing or matching funds from the university.  How can I obtain these?

First, consult your department chair for advice and possible assistance. If funds are unavailable from the department, the chair may endorse approaching the dean with your request. If the dean cannot provide the funds, he or she may in turn endorse approaching the appropriate vice chancellor. Your request should be in writing and should provide an explanation of need and benefits, accompanied by a copy of your proposal and budget.

What is indirect costs/overhead/F&A costs?

Indirect costs, also called overhead or facilities and administration (F&A) costs, are real costs that are not directly associated with the project, but are expenses the university incurs to support the project and enable it to be conducted. They include the expenses of buildings and utilities, maintenance, libraries, purchasing, human resources, research administration, and others. These expenses are averaged over all projects and official rates are established through negotiation with the federal government. See Proposal Cover Information.

The sponsor doesn’t pay overhead/indirect costs/F&A costs, or pays them at a reduced rate. May I submit a proposal anyway?

Since indirect costs are real costs, they do not disappear if a sponsor declines to pay them. They must be paid by someone. ECU’s policy is to recover full indirect costs from the sponsor of the project whenever possible. However, when a nonprofit sponsor has an official, written policy regarding indirect costs, the university will usually agree to honor it and “share the costs” of the project with the sponsor, as long as the same policy is uniformly applied to all grantees.

For sponsors who pay reduced, or no, indirect costs, the PI must enter the information in eTRACS on the “Pre-review questions” tab and route for pre-review (on the Pre-Review Route & Attachments tab) prior to submitting the full proposal in eTRACS. See 330 – Facilities & Administrative Costs.

Do full indirect cost/F&A costs/overhead always need to be included in a proposal to a for-profit company?

Yes, full indirect cost/F&A costs/overhead costs always need to be included in a proposal for a for-profit company.

Do pre-proposals, preliminary proposals, and “letters of intent” require the ORA’s review prior to submission?

Generally no, pre-proposals, preliminary proposals, and “letters of intent” do not require the ORA’s review prior to submission. See 322 – Preposal Procedure (PDF)

Is review by the university’s human subjects committee (IRB) required for behavioral or social sciences research projects involving questionnaires, surveys, interviews, and/or focus groups?

Yes. Complete the eTRACS research subjects section and go to the UMCIRB website and follow the procedures for behavioral/social science projects.

Do I need to obtain approval by the IRB (Human Subjects Committee) or the IACUC (Animal Care & Use Committee) prior to submitting the proposal, or later?

Sponsor requirements vary. Most do not require approval of the use of human or animal subjects at the time of submission of a proposal. However, there are a few exceptions, and all sponsors require official approval before an award is made. Official, written, final approval of the IRB or IACUC must always be obtained before you begin any work on the project. The ORA will not sign a contract, or authorize establishment of an account for your project, until the PI provides proper documentation of approval.

I plan to collaborate on a project with a colleague at another institution. What procedures do I need to follow?

Be sure to contact the ORA as early as possible – well in advance of the deadline – since preparing and submitting collaborative proposals frequently requires considerably more time than single-institution proposals. Above all, don’t wait until after a proposal is submitted by the other institution, or until the other institution is notified of an award!

You and your colleague need to work out mutually agreeable arrangements as to who will do what on the project, and which institution will be designated to receive the “prime” award if the sponsor decides to fund the project. The other institution will receive a subcontract from the prime institution for their part of the work. Each colleague should construct a budget for his or her part of the work, and submit it to his or her own institutional office of research administration, or the equivalent office, for review and approval.

If ECU is to be the prime awardee, you will need to obtain the other institution’s approved budget from your colleague and include the total as part of your own budget, then follow eTRACS for submitting a proposal. If ECU is to be the subcontractor, you should follow the same procedures for ORA’s review as if you were applying directly to the sponsor. Please provide the ORA with the name, phone number and email address for a contact person in the sponsored programs office of the other institution.

If ECU is the lead institution in a consortium of several institutions wishing to submit an application, ECU requires a signed Subrecipient Organization Commitment Form, Scope of Work, proposed budget and budget. ECU requires institutional letters of intent and proposed budgets from the other participating institutions before the application can be approved for submission. If a grant is awarded, the ORA will then prepare and negotiate the necessary subcontracts to transfer funds to the participating institutions.

If another institution is to be the lead institution in a consortium in which ECU will be a participant, submission in eTRACS and attachment of an institutional letter of intent and a proposed budget (and any narrative material) from ECU to the lead institution will be required. The ORA will provide the letter of intent after reviewing the PI’s materials, including the budget and administrative forms. This submission is considered to be administratively equivalent to a proposal. Thus, the PI should follow all of the above steps, including the completion of appropriate university forms, before the ORA can issue a letter of intent.

If awarded, ECU’s funding will be in the form of a subcontract and will be processed through the ORA as described in ECU Administrative Procedures for Contracts and Cooperative Agreements.

How soon will I get an account number after I receive an award?

The ORA reviews and processes awards as soon as possible after they are received. For simple grants, this is usually accomplished within a day or two. For contractual agreements, especially with private for-profit sponsors, negotiation of acceptable terms often requires additional time. If required approvals, such as human or animal subjects, are lacking, award processing may be delayed.

I just received a phone call from the sponsor informing me that my proposal will be funded. When can I start spending money?

The ORA must receive official, written notification of an award from the funding agency’s authorized official containing complete information on the amount, time period, and other terms and conditions of the award. Upon receiving this notification, the ORA will review the award document (grant notice, contract, cooperative agreement, or other), check the proposal file and contact the PI for any needed approvals such as human or animal subjects, and if necessary, contact the funding agency to negotiate acceptable terms and conditions. An account is usually established within a couple of days. No purchases can be made until an account has been established.

What if my award is delayed?

It is fairly common for an official award document to be delayed, even though funding has been informally assured by an official of the sponsor. The university must always have a written commitment from a source of funds in order to pay expenses of the project. One way to do this is for the PI to request a Pre-Spending Change request in eTRACS from a chair or dean willing to cover any cost not covered by the sponsor (the costs are not actually paid by the guarantor at that time.)

The Pre-Spending Change request should state the guarantor’s commitment to cover expenses of the project, should an award fail to materialize. The Pre-Spending Change request may set limits on the amount and time period that will be covered; this time period should be within the anticipated time period of the official award.

As soon as official award notification is received from the sponsor, the guarantor may then be reimbursed from the project budget for any expenses incurred. If required approvals, such as human or animal subjects, are lacking, a Pre-Spending Change request will not be processed until the required approvals have been granted. 

How long do clinical trial agreements take to negotiate?

Clinical trial agreements are legally binding contracts that are typically issued by for-profit sponsors like pharmaceutical companies. They involve research with human subjects, which requires review and approval by ECU’s IRB. There are also liability, confidentiality, intellectual property, and other issues which affect the core interests of the university and the PI. The ORA is responsible for review and negotiation of these issues on behalf of the university. The negotiation process may require considerable time, even weeks, particularly if changes must be approved by the company’s legal staff.

What is effort certification?

Federal government regulations require grantees, including universities, to track and certify the time and effort of employees, including faculty, staff, and students, who are either:

    • Paid from grant or contract funds, or
    • Contributing their time and effort to grants and contracts at no charge to the sponsor.

Please contact the ORA or the School of Medicine Business Office (for medical school personnel) for information on how to maintain records of time and effort. The university currently has an automated system that can be used by faculty and departmental administrators to accomplish this process.

What happens to the overhead/indirect costs/F&A costs paid to the university?

A sponsored project’s F&A costs are distributed according to policies developed by the vice chancellors and subject to state laws and regulations. ECU generally distributes F&A funds accordingly: 70% to Division Administration and Finance and 30% to the originating college or colleges generally divided equally between PI, chair, and dean (10-10-10). See 560 – Distribution of Recovered Facilities & Administrative (F&A) Costs.

How does the ORA handle deadlines that occur after 5 p.m. EST?

ORA staff are available Monday through Friday during the normal business hours of 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Any questions and requests received after 5:00 p.m. on a given working day will receive a response during the next available business day.

If the sponsor deadline is after 5 p.m., the ORA deadline for submission is no later than 5 p.m. that working day. The federal deadline of 8 p.m. EST was created to accommodate the business hours of grantee organizations on the west coast. If an exception to this standard is needed, please contact the ORA director well in advance of the deadline to discussion the possibility of special arrangements.