Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

Who is authorized to sign a proposal, pre-award revision, agreement, third party agreement, or non-financial agreement related to research activities?

The University's Board of Trustees has identified certain individuals within the Office of Sponsored Programs as being authorized to sign such items on behalf of the University.  The Director, Associate Directors, and Assistant Directors of the Office of Sponsored Programs serve as the University Authorized Signatories.  Only these University Authorized Signatories can legally bind the University to the terms contained in agreements.  Investigators are not authorized to sign agreements on behalf of the University, and in doing so, can potentially be held personally (and solely) responsible for any legal or business issues related to the agreements.

How can I determine what abbreviations mean or definitions are?

The Office of Sponsored Programs has compiled a glossary of terms for your convenience.

What steps can I take to help to facilitate Office of Sponsored Programs processing?

When submitting agreements for Office of Sponsored Programs review, please be sure that all documents being sent are complete and accurate prior to sending to OSP.

When inquiring about the status of an agreement under review by the Office of Sponsored Programs, please remember to include the identifier (FP#, AWD#, SRA#, etc.), as well as the PI's name and the other party with whom our University is contracting in your e-mail or phone inquiry.

Where can I find information about University compliance areas?

In general, they can be found on our Helpful Links section.

What does "Key Personnel" mean?

The meaning of the term "Key Personnel" can vary depending upon whether the context is a contract or a grant.  However, in general it refers to employees of the awardee who are engaged in the awarded project, listed in the award application, progress report, or any other report submitted to the sponsor and who are considered by the sponsor as essential resources in the work performance. (The sponsor may review the qualifications of any substitution of these individuals and require prior approval for replacement of said personnel.)

For the Federal Contract Services team, Key Personnel refers to individuals who are identified as such by the Sponsor within the award document, as well as those identified within MyFunding. Key Personnel typically includes the principal investigators and co-investigators, but is dependent upon the individual award. Please note that Key Personnel are required to complete the appropriate  Conflict of Interest Faculty/Researcher filing at least annually (and during the year if they accrue new outside interests), as well as CITI modules relevant to the project. Information specific to US Department of Health and Human Services regulations can be found at:

What Conflict of Interest disclosures and training do I need to complete before the Office of Sponsored Programs will endorse my award?

While the Office of Sponsored Programs has been closely involved in the implementation of the requirements for disclosure and training, it is important to understand that those requirements were created by other University offices in response to mandated changes from the federal government.  Information on disclosures can be found on the Conflict of Interest homepage.

The COI training page also has extensive information on the training requirements applicable to the type of research being performed which is often determined by the funding source (PHS or non-PHS).  There are distinct differences in the requirements dependent upon the type and source of funding. The COI Training page has comprehensive information that will assist in making both disclosure and training determinations.

The Office of Research Protections is instrumental in providing updated information on training in conjunction with the COI Office. The ORP has compiled a Research Training Requirements chart which nicely outlines the training requirements dependent upon the source of funding.

Who can be a Principal Investigator on a research proposal?

Unlike some grants, where a graduate or PhD student can be the Principal Investigator (fellowship awards, etc.), Federal Contracts do not have this option.  The Office of Sponsored Programs is frequently asked who can serve as a Principal Investigator on a Federal Contract.  This question depends on several factors including, the individual's employment status, scope of the work contemplated, sponsoring agency guidelines, and whether the individual can satisfy the University policy on the Rights, Roles, and Responsibilities of Sponsored Research Investigators: (11-01-02).  If you are unsure if an individual can serve as a Principal Investigator on a Federal Contract, please consult your Dean’s Office to assist you with making the proper determination.  The Office of Sponsored Programs will direct these inquires back to the appropriate Dean’s Office for a final determination.

How do I sign up to be on the Office of Sponsored Programs email distribution list?

Go to: to be added to our list.

Does a Principal Investigator have to include effort on every project?

Yes, consistent with federal regulations, all faculty members listed as the Principal Investigator on a sponsored project must contribute some level of effort to that project to provide necessary supervision/administration.  For additional information on Effort Reporting refer to This does not mean that they have to request funding for their effort on the project.  In this case, they would cost share the effort.

What is the COI Approval and does the department need to take any action to obtain this approval?

The COI Approval is only necessary when an individual listed as Investigator or Key Personnel on a project answers YES to the responses on their annual COI disclosure form. 

The request for approval is sent to the COI Office by the Office of Sponsored Programs at award stage and the file is held until the approval is received. As long as all of the documents necessary for account activation are on file with the Office of Sponsored Programs, no other action is necessary by the department.

Organizational Conflict of Interest (“OCI”) – What is it? 

“Organizational Conflict of Interest” means that because of other activities or relationships with other entities, the institution is unable to render impartial assistance or advice to the Government, cannot perform the federal contract work in an objective way, or has an unfair competitive advantage compared to other entities.

Organizational Conflict of Interest (OCI) could result when the nature of the work being performed on a federal contract creates an actual or potential conflict of interest on a future award, which could result in restrictions on that award. There are three basic categories where OCIs may be found:

  • biased ground rules (FAR 9.505-2): Example – preparing/writing specifications or work statements that are used in a funding opportunity;
  • impaired objectivity (FAR 9.505-3): Example – evaluating or assessing performance of products/services of others within same organization; and
  • unequal access to information (FAR 9.505-4): Example – gaining access to non-public information (i.e., budget(s)/budget information, statements of work, evaluation criteria, etc.) through performance of a federal contract.

One faculty member’s involvement in one of these situations may preclude a subsequently related award (and different faculty member) from being received at the University on the basis of a potential OCI.

FAR 2.101 includes the Definition of OCI.

FAR Subpart 9.5 further describes the general rules, responsibilities, and procedures regarding Organizational and Consultant Conflicts of Interest.

FAR 9.508 illustrates situations where organizational conflicts of interest questions may arise.

See University Policy 11-01-08 for further details on how OCI is to identified,  eliminated, and/or managed at the University of Pittsburgh.

I have a service/recharge center* that provides services to researchers. A researcher at a federal entity wants to use my services and has provided me with a contract to pay for those costs. Can I sign and process this award for federal funds through my approved recharge center?

No, you cannot. Recharge centers typically operate out of an entity 03 account, which are not captured in the federal audit. Federal funds are subject to special audit requirements under the Uniform Guidance and must be captured in the University’s federal Single Audit.  This means that the Office of Sponsored Programs must process all federal contracts and awards, resulting in the associated federal funding being deposited into an entity 05 account.

*Pitt Sponsored Projects Accounting defines a recharge center as a self-supporting ancillary business enterprise that generally charges other University departments and sponsored awards.

What is an Other Transaction Agreement (OTA)?

Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) are defined in the negative because there is no statutory or regulatory definition of “other transaction.” An OTA is a legally valid contract with the federal government that is not a traditional procurement contract, grant, or cooperative agreement. It is not subject to the federal laws and regulations that apply to government acquisition contracts (FAR/supplement clauses) or assistance awards. The federal government uses OTAs to streamline research and development, prototype development, and other projects. The Federal Contract Services team is responsible for processing agreements related to OTAs.

Basics of Federal Contracting

What is a Federal Contract?

A Federal Contract, like a grant or cooperative agreement, is a mechanism used by the Federal Government to provide funding for research and development projects.  Unlike a grant or cooperative agreement, though the Federal Government uses contracts as a procurement mechanism, whereby the principal purpose of the instrument is to essentially purchase property or services for the direct benefit or use of the United States Government.  Federal Contracts are governed by a strict set of terms and conditions, including clauses from the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).  Contracts usually require frequent reporting and a high level of responsibility to the sponsor.  Failure to perform and achieve the promised results or product on time and on budget could result in criminal and/or civil action and/or financial consequences to the University, Administrators, or others involved. 

What is the difference between a Federal Grant and a Federal Contract?

Federal Grants and Federal Contracts have significant differences. To assist in the differentiation of the two, we have developed a Federal Grant vs. Federal Contract Guidance document.

How can I identify a Federal Contract?

Most solicitations will indicate when funding will be awarded under a Federal Contract.  Where the solicitation isn’t clear or you are still not sure, there are a number of other indicators you can use to identify a Federal Contract.  For example:
  1. If the award or solicitation contains references to the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), this is a good sign that the project is funded through a Federal Contract.  Examples of FAR Clauses are:  FAR 52.227-14 – Rights in Data, General; DFAR 252.225-7001 - Buy American Act and Balance of Payments Program; or HHSAR 352.224-70 - Privacy Act.
  2. The contract number itself can also be a clue.  For Example: If the sponsor is the NIH the Contract Number will begin with HHSN or N01.
  3. The cover page of the contract, in most cases, will also indicate that it is a Federal Contract.  For Example: If Section I, Contract Clauses has an X next to it and/or the signature block section is checked to indicate Negotiated Agreement/Contractor Required to Sign (usually block 17).

What is the Federal Contract Process Overview?

The Federal Contracting process can be equated to a relationship with the sponsor.  There are various stages of the process and some interaction between the various stages in order to have the process work efficiently and effectively for all parties.  Click here to see a diagram of the process.

Is there a CFDA number for Federal Contracts?

No. CFDA stands for Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. CFDA numbers do not apply to Federal Contracts as they are considered procurement and not assistance. Please refer to the types of awards that fall under the CFDA classifications.

What are the definitions to common terms in Federal Contracting?

The Office of Sponsored Programs has developed a Glossary of Research Administration Terms for your reference.


If it isn’t clear at the proposal stage whether the funding will come to the University in the form of grant or a contract – who should I work with at the Office of Sponsored Programs and why? 

When a solicitation states that the proposal may be awarded as either a grant, cooperative agreement, or procurement contract, you will work with your designated Grants and Contracts Officer if:

  1. The solicitation has a CFDA number, AND
  2. The solicitation does not include FAR clauses or provisions.

However, if the solicitation states that the proposal may be awarded as an Other Transaction Agreement (OTA), you will always work with your designated Federal Contracts Officer.

What is the internal deadline for a Federal Contract submission to the Office of Sponsored Programs? 

All of the documents required for submission, as well as the electronic application, if applicable, and any other attachments or approvals required by the sponsor or the University must be received by the Office of Sponsored Programs at least five (5) full business days prior to the sponsor's due date.  

Who is responsible for proposal and Pre-Award Revision (aka JIT) submission to the sponsor?

The department is responsible for the preparation of the research proposal and Pre-Award Revision under the direction of the Department Chair and Principal Investigator who will oversee the planned project.  Department administrators should work closely with the Principal Investigator to prepare the proposal for submission and to obtain all of the necessary documents required for subsequent proposal review.  The department is ultimately responsible for the submission of the proposal and Pre-Award Revision to the sponsor, once Office of Sponsored Programs approval/endorsement is received.

If I am submitting a Subcontract Statement of Intent to be a subcontractor on a project funded by a Federal Contract, do I need to involve the Office of Sponsored Programs?

Yes.  As with any proposal, the Office of Sponsored Programs needs to review and approve your Subcontract Statement of Intent and supporting documentation before it is submitted.

If I am submitting a Letter of Intent on a project funded by a Federal Contract, do I need to involve the Office of Sponsored Programs?

Possibly.  Please utilize the Federal Contract Services Letter of Intent tool on our website to determine what information, if any, needs to be submitted through the Office of Sponsored Programs for submission of your Letter of Intent.

Should I draft an endorsement letter from the University or will the Office of Sponsored Programs do that for me?

The Office of Sponsored Programs will draft an Endorsement Letter on OR letterhead to accompany your proposal, Letter of Intent, or Pre-Award Revision.  It is not a problem for the Principal Investigator to draft a secondary letter in support of the proposal or to request that the Office of Sponsored Programs include additional information in the Office of Sponsored Programs drafted Endorsement Letter.  In the case where we are submitting as a Subcontractor through the Letter of Intent process, the  Endorsement Letter content will be added to the draft letter sent to OSP by the department or attached separately. (Note: OSP will only sign a letter on OSP letterhead.  Non-OSP letterhead letters can be referenced in the OSP Endorsement Letters.)

Who can help me with the Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requirements of my contract? 

Pitt IT– Please contact them directly.  To request help from Pitt IT, you should contact the Pitt IT Help Desk to request “help with Section 508,” which will route the ticket to the appropriate area in Pitt IT. This may be done online at:


Where can I find the status of an award negotiation?

Negotiations for awards, modifications, and other actions can be found in MyRA.

Can we accept an Authorization to Proceed?

A sponsor will sometimes issue an Authorization to Proceed to authorize the contractor to begin working before the contract or contract modification has been negotiated and signed. The Office of Sponsored Programs strongly encourages Principal Investigators to not begin work before OSP has negotiated and signed the research contract or contract modification. If you receive an Authorization to Proceed, please forward it to for consultation.

Will the Office of Sponsored Programs authorize an Advance Account for a project funded by a Federal Contract or Other Transaction?

No. If the PI starts work on a research project funded by a Federal Contract or Other Transaction Agreement, it may be construed that the University has accepted the terms and conditions of the contract or subcontract. Therefore, because Federal Contracts and Other Transaction Agreements may include terms that are unacceptable to the University, no work should be performed until OSP negotiates and signs the research contract or subcontract. Please see the Advanced Account Requests tab of SPA’s Central Financial Management page for more information on appropriate and inappropriate uses of Advance Accounts. 
What are the most common reasons that an award requires negotiations?
Examples of the most common terms and conditions that require negotiation may be found on the Federal Contract Negotiations page.

Manage Awards/Agreements

When will my award receive a new account number?

Departments, Office of Sponsored Programs, and SPA work collaboratively in determining whether or not a new account number is necessary.  Factors taken into consideration include the type of award and the language contained within the award, including any language concerning the carrying over of funds between budget periods.  Typically, federal contracts do not allow for carryover between periods of performance; this makes it likely that a new account number will be assigned at the beginning of each period of performance.  However, Departments should consult OR and/or SPA if there are questions regarding particular awards.  At their discretion, Departments can also choose to request new account numbers to separate each year’s funding or other funding increments, regardless of carryover restrictions.  

After the contract is signed, is there anything I need to continue working on with the Office of Sponsored Programs?

Once an award has been made, it is possible that the sponsor may ask for an additional proposal within this awarded contract.  This is referred to in the Office of Sponsored Programs as a "Midstream Proposal".  It has similar requirements as an Initial Proposal.  Please refer to the Midstream Proposal section for specifics. 
Alternately, there may be a need to request changes or even request permission for items listed within a certain award.  Typically, there is a need to gain prior authorization from the sponsor before taking action.  Requirements for prior authorization vary by award, agency, and even Contracting Officer.  So please ask your Federal Contract Services contact for guidance regarding your particular award. See Contracting Officer's Authorization for more information.
Can the University act under Expanded Authorities to make budgetary changes and authorize no-cost extensions to Federal Contracts?
No.  Under its grants policy statement, the NIH has waived cost-related and other prior-approval requirements for many activities and expenditures, and provided authority for these activities and expenditures to the grantee.  This is known as “Expanded Authorities.”  Expanded Authorities do not apply to Federal Contracts, and in fact, the University has very little latitude to make changes without the prior written approval of the government or our sponsor.  For example, most Federal Contracts do not allow for the carry-over of unobligated balances into a new program year.  Further, No-Cost Extensions are very rarely granted for Federal Contracts.
Why is a Contracting Officer's Authorization (COA) important & why is it important to submit it through OSP?
By submitting COA requests to the Contracting Officer, future penalties and/or later corrections can be eliminated because all of the activities being performed under the contract are kept within the contract terms and conditions.  It is better to ask for permission than forgiveness.  Since the Office of Sponsored Programs is the main point of contact for awards, submitting COA requests through OSP keeps everyone on the same page.  Additionally, some actions require compliance review/screenings and/or institutional review to ensure that University policies and procedures are being followed prior to submission to the sponsor.  Not performing these requirements prior to submission to the Contracting Officer could delay the processing of the award modification (if the COA is approved).
Do I need to submit a COA Request to request the next option of my contract?
You usually do not need to submit a COA request for the next option of your contract. Options for federal contracts are typically at the discretion of the sponsor, who will extend the contract based on their need, availability of funds, and contractor performance (among other factors). If your contract includes options for additional funding periods, those options are usually defined within your contract, which may contain language similar to that found in FAR 52.217-9 – Option to Extend the Term of the Contract.
In some cases, the sponsor may initiate the process for the next funding option by requesting a Midstream Proposal. However, please note that some contracts may contain language similar to that found in FAR 52.232-20 – Limitation of Cost. This clause requires contractors to notify the Contracting Officer if they have reason to believe they will incur costs in the next 60 days that, when added to all costs previously incurred, will exceed 75% of the estimated cost of the contract. Contracting Officers may factor this notification into their determination to issue the next contract option (i.e., the next allotment of funds). Please note that you should contact the Office of Sponsored Programs to provide this notification on behalf of the University.
How do I request a subaccount for an existing award?

Who can authorize changes in the Statement of Work (SOW), budget, etc.? 

Only the Contracting Officer can officially authorize a change.  However, OSP can approve certain changes within the contract if allowable.

If an item is in my budget, do I automatically have approval to purchase it?
No, you may still need to request a COA.

Third Party Agreements

What is the difference between a Subaward/Subcontract and a Services Agreement?

The differences between a Subaward/Subcontract and a Services Agreement are substantial.  The Office of Sponsored Programs is responsible for issuing Subawards/subcontracts from prime agreements (i.e., Federal Contract) awarded to the University.  Purchasing Services is responsible for issuing services agreements for goods and services from contractors. Review information on the different characteristics between Subrecipients and Contractors.  For Federal Contracts flowdown is still required for both types of agreements.  Purchasing Services will consult Office of Sponsored Programs regarding necessary terms and conditions needed for Services Agreements.

What should be included in a Collaborator’s Scope of Work/Statement of Work (SOW) in an outgoing Subaward/Subcontract? 

When submitting a request for an outgoing Subaward/Subcontract, one of the most critical elements is the Scope of Work (SOW).  The SOW should provide a full and detailed explanation of the work to be conducted, including project goals, deliverables, reporting requirements, investigator responsibilities, as well as materials, drugs or devices to be exchanged between the University and the sites.  It is typically one or two paragraphs and contains simple, non-scientific terms explaining what research will be performed at the Subrecipient site.  The Scope of Work should not be the budget justification or the listing of specific aims from the proposal.