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3.2.1 Authorizing Expenditures

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Formerly Known As Policy Number: 

This Guide Memo describes responsibilities for the management of funds in University Projects, Tasks and Awards (PTAs).


Approved by the Vice President for Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer.

1. Responsibility for University Funds

a. University Officers' Responsibility
The Board of Trustees has delegated to deans, department chairs, directors, principal investigators and other University officers the responsibility for management of funds in their PTAs. See Guide Memo 1.2.1: University Organization. These officers have the authority to expend these funds to accomplish their assigned responsibilities, and are responsible for assuring that expenditures charged to their PTAs are:

  • Reasonable and necessary
  • Consistent with established University policies and practices applicable to the work of the University, including instruction, research, and public service
  • Consistent with sponsor or donor expenditure restrictions

For more information on cost policy, see Guide Memo 3.1.4: Cost Policy.

b. Delegation of Authority
Authority to sign expenditure documents for the purchase of services and materials on a PTA may be delegated and the University officer may authorize the person to whom authority is delegated to further delegate signature authority. The University officer retains accountability for prudent control of the PTA. The University officer may place limits on the dollar level and the types of expenditures for which signature authority is delegated. For more information, see the Financial Authority section of the Gateway to Financial Activities website. 

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2. Authorization Procedures

a. Training
To be granted signature authority in the Oracle Financial system, employees must complete required training, ORA-1101: Cost Policy and FIN-0103: Approving Financial Transactions. For more information, see the Overview: About Financial Authority At Stanford

b. Delegation of Signature Authority
(1) University Officers
A letter from University officers indicating the organization for which they are responsible and the administrator to whom they have delegated the ability to manage authority must be on file in the Controller's Office.
(2) Delegation of Signature Authority
To delegate authority for both electronic and paper form transactions, the person responsible for the organization or PTA must delegate such authority via the Authority Manager.

c. Electronic Signature
Users of campus financial systems identify themselves to these systems using approved, secure authentication methods. See Guide Memo 6.4.1: Identification and Authentication Systems, for details on these methods. In addition to these system-independent authentication methods, financial systems may have system-specific authentication methods (e.g., a username and password for a particular system). Regardless of the authentication method, authentication using any of the approved methods is the electronic equivalent of an employee's hand-written signature, and may be used as an "electronic signature" in electronic applications.

d. Signature Security
Only the person to whom authority is delegated may authorize a transaction either manually or electronically. Disciplinary steps will be taken against individuals who are found to have fraudulently signed the name of another person, used the authentication information of another person, or divulged their authentication information to another person. The possible disciplinary actions for violations, which can include termination of employment or student status, will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. User responsibilities for handling authentication information are described in Guide Memo 6.4.1: Identification and Authentication Systems.

e. Limitations on Signature Authority
(1) Expense Reimbursement
No person may approve his or her own expense reimbursement, or the expense reimbursement of an individual to whom he or she reports either directly or indirectly. Expense reimbursements, which require two signatures, must have the signatures of the person incurring the expense and the person responsible for the management of the PTA or a properly delegated agent.
(2) Independent Review
Business expenses incurred by or on behalf of the President, the Provost, a direct report to the President or the Provost, or the senior financial officer of the academic units must be approved by an independent reviewer designated by the CFO. Expenses for ordinary supplies, customarily available for all employees in an office, should be approved by a local business officer and need not be routed for independent review.
(3) Salaries
No person may sign any payroll/personnel form that affects his or her own salary, or payroll/personnel forms that affect the salary of an individual to whom he or she reports either directly or indirectly.
(4) Conflict of Interest
No person may authorize payment to any individual or business where there is a conflict of interest. See Guide Memo 1.5.2: Staff Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest.

f. Revoking Signature Authority

The University officer who delegated authority (or the person who currently holds that position) is responsible to ensure granted authority reflects the unit's current needs. When a person with signature authority transfers to another department or leaves the University, his/her authority is automatically revoked. Changes for other operational reasons can be made at any time through the Authority Manager. For more information, see Quick Steps: Grant, Change, Revoke or Restore Financial Authority to Others. 

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3. Review and Error Correction

a. Departmental Review
The deans, department chairs, directors, principal investigators and other University officers to whom funds are allocated are responsible for reviewing their expense transactions and monthly expenditure/operating statements to assure that:

  • Any expenditure is necessary and for University purposes.
  • Charges are correct.
  • Charges are allowable for the PTA.
  • Charges are correctly coded as allowable or unallowable for inclusion in the University's indirect cost rate calculations.
  • Charges are allocable to the PTA.
  • Any allocation of costs is reasonable and equitable.
  • Charges are appropriately documented, and are recorded in a consistent manner within departmental accounts.

b. Evidence of Review
Review of transactions is evidenced by a manual or electronic signature in the appropriate field of the form.

c. Responsibility for Error Correction
The department is responsible for correction of errors. Time limits for error correction are outlined in Guide Memo 3.2.2: Cost Transfers, and the Research Policy Handbook 15.3,  Cost Sharing Policy. Occasionally errors are found after the regular time limits for correction. Regardless of when the error is found, the University officer whose PTA used the good or service must pay for it, either from the same or another appropriate PTA.

d. Central Office Review
To supplement (but not replace) the University officer's basic review responsibility, Financial Management Services (including Procurement and the Controller's Office) and the Office of Sponsored Research review University selected expense transactions. If incorrect or improper charges are found, the reviewing office directs the person responsible for the expenditures to correct the error. If necessary, the reviewing office may correct the department's error and will provide the department with a copy of the accounting entry.

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4. Expenditures of Restricted Funds

a. Conformity to External Restrictions
Expenditures of restricted funds, such as organized research or gift funds, whether from federal or non-federal sources, must conform to any limitations or exclusions set forth in the agreement or gift document. Expenditures of funds for federally sponsored projects are subject to the allowability, allocability, and reasonableness standards of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-21, Cost Principles for Educational Institutions, and to negotiated agreements between the University and the federal government. Cost-sharing tasks are subject to the same standards as the sponsored project that they support.

b. Monthly Review of Charges
For sponsored projects and related cost-sharing tasks, the expenditure statements must be reviewed each month, as noted in Guide Memo 3.1.3: Expenditure Accounts (PTA). The review should include areas such as those covered by the Monthly Review Guidance and Monthly Reconciliation tools. The review is evidenced by a signature on the monthly expenditure statement. The review must be completed within two months of the end of the month of the statement (e.g., October expenditures must be reviewed no later than December 31).

c. Quarterly Certification of Charges
The following certification of direct costs is preprinted on expenditure statements for sponsored projects and cost-sharing tasks each month:


This certification statement must be signed by the principal investigator. Quarterly certification is the responsibility of the project Principal Investigator (or Co-PI). A PI may delegate the monthly review of statements for accuracy, but may not delegate certification of the appropriateness of the charges. Only the last expenditure statement for the academic quarter must be signed by the principal investigator. The quarterly certification must be completed within two months of the end of the academic quarter being certified, as described in the Monthly Review and Quarterly PI Review Certification. This signature means that the principal investigator has reviewed all direct charges to the project and that either the charges on the expenditure statement are reasonably accurate as shown, or that the appropriate individual in the department has initiated accounting entries to correct any differences. Review and correction of differences must be completed within the deadlines outlined on the DoResearch site.

d. Record Retention
The certified expenditure statements must be retained in the department files for future review by government and University auditors in accordance with University record retention requirements for sponsored projects (see Guide Memo 3.1.5: Retention of Financial Records.

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5. Sources for More Information

Cognizant Office
Financial Management Services (including Procurement and the Controller's Office) and the Research Financial Compliance and Services (RFCS) Office are available to answer questions about expenditure authorization. For contact information, see the Gateway to Financial Activities website or the DoResearch website.  

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