Research Administration Terms


Circular No. A-21 Cost Principles for Educational Institutions is an OMB (Office of Management and Budget) document that sets forth the government regulatory costing principles which must be followed by educational institutions conducting Government Sponsored Research. As of 12/26/2014 the Uniform Guidance replaced OMB Circular A-21 for all new awards and increments with effective dates on or after 12/26/2014.

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A SeRA Award Approval Notification (AAN) is a SeRA system generated e-mail notification to the PI and PTA Manager advising that a sponsored project award has been accepted on behalf of Stanford University and the Account Setup is in progress. 

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Administrative Salaries

Salaries of clerical and administrative personnel may not be charged directly to federal project unless the effort is proposed as integral to the project and justified. 

Administrative salaries can be charged to nonfederal project if the effort benefits the project. Some non-federal sponsors may prohibit charging administrative salaries.

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The award is the official document notifying the grantee and others that an award has been made and stating the terms and conditions of the award.

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Capital Equipment

The capital threshold for Stanford owned equipment is $5,000. Capital equipment must meet all the following three criteria.

  1. acquisition cost $5,000 or greater
  2. useful life of more than one year and
  3. be an individual, stand-alone, moveable, tangible item

Stanford-owned capital equipment is financially depreciated based on its asset category and associated expenditure type code. Correct use of expenditure codes is critical to ensure accurate asset accounting and reporting. Its useful life may extend well beyond its financial depreciation period; as such, it remains on record until disposed at the end of its life cycle.

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Cayuse 424

Cayuse 424 is a web-based system-to-system solution that allows users to create, review and submit Grants.Gov proposals to OSR or RMG for submission further submission to the sponsor.

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Compliance Training Requirements

Principal Investigator (PI) responsibilities include directing research and managing financial aspects of research in compliance with Stanford policy, federal and state laws, and sponsor requirements.

Training that addressed these responsibilities is available, and in some cases it is required. PIs are responsible for ensuring that they, their students and staff meet compliance training requirements.

View required classes

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Cost Principles

Stanford policy and federal regulations such as OMB Circular A-21 and the Uniform Guidance state fundamental principles of research administration.

An expense qualifies as a direct cost to a sponsored project only when it meets the following four principles.

  1. Allowable: Allowable and unallowable costs are defined by federal regulations and in the terms of specific awards

  2. Allocable: Only those costs that BENEFIT a project may be charged to that project

  3. Reasonable: Costs must reflect what a prudent person would pay

  4. Consistent: Costs must be handled consistently across the university by following Stanford policy

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Cost Sharing

Cost sharing is that portion of the project costs represented in the proposal budget borne by Stanford rather than the sponsor. Cost sharing must be proposed and accepted by the sponsor, and must be accounted for  in its own task. Any direct cost that is allowable, allocable, reasonable and consistent can be cost shared. However equipment cannot be offered as cost sharing  unless it is specified in the awardannouncment.

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Cost Transfer

A cost transfer is an after-the-fact reallocation of a transaction cost from one project to another or to a non sponsored PTA. Journal entries are used to transfer costs. Stanford allows cost transfers involving sponsored projects only in these circumstances.

  • to correct an error
  • to transfer between tasks of the same sponsored project
  • to remove disallowed costs
  • to clear an overdraft at the end of a project

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Direct Costs

According to Stanford policy and  federal regulations, an expense qualifies as a direct cost for a sponsored project when it meets all four of the following criteria.

  1. Allowable: as defined in OMB Circular A-21, the Uniform Guidance AND in the terms & conditions of specific awards.
  2. Allocable: Only those expenses that benefit a project may be charged to that project.
  3. Reasonable: Costs must reflect what a prudent person would pay.
  4. Consistent: Costs must be handled consistently across the University by following Stanford policy.Everyone who authorizes expenses at Stanford for any purpose must confirm prior to approving a transaction that the expenditures are:
  • Reasonable and necessary
  • Consistent with established Stanford policy and practices, as well as sponsor or donor terms & conditions
  • Applicable to the work of the Stanford, which includes; instruction, research, and public service 

Direct costs are those costs that can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity, or that can be directly assigned to such activities relatively easily with a high degree of accuracy. 

Direct costs include, but are not limited to, salaries, travel, equipment, and supplies directly benefiting the grant-supported project or activity.

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Early PTA

A PTA (Project-Task-Award) is set up, in the SeRA Sponsored PTA Manager module, to establish a new project or activity. An Early PTA is opened for pre-award spending or spending in advance of a fully executed award.

When it is necessary to request an early PTA, the PI must identify a guarantee PTA with unrestricted funds to cover the costs in the event that the award does not materialize. 

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FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations)

FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations) set forth the terms and conditions for Federal contracts.

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Federal Regulations

Shorthand for OMB Circular A-21, A-110, A-133 and the Uniform Guidance and other government regulations.

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eSubmit is Stanford's drop box for electronic research proposals and provides storage, routing, and tracking features. Potential users include faculty, departmental staff, and central office staff who participate in the creation, approval, and submission of these electronic proposals. It is primarily used in the School of Medicine.

View Additional Electronic Proposal Submission Tools

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F&A (Facilities & Administrative) Costs/IDC (Indirect Costs)

F&A (Facilities & Administrative) costs are related to expenses incurred in conducting or supporting research or other externally-funded activities but not directly attributable to a specific project.

Federal agencies use different terms to describe these costs  The terms F&A costs and IDC (Indirect Costs) refer to the same thing.

F&A rates are established in accordance with the federal policy. They are negotiated between Stanford and the ONR (Office of Naval Research), the cognizant federal agency overseeing the administration of sponsored agreements at Stanford.

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Fringe Benefit Rate

Fringe Benefit Rates are established in accordance with the federal policy. They are negotiated between Stanford and the ONR (Office of Naval Research), the cognizant federal agency overseeing the administration of sponsored agreements at Stanford.

The fringe benefit rate covers the costs of employee benefits.

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Guarantee PTA

A guarantee PTA is an unrestricted source of funds that could cover the costs in the event that an award does not materialize. 

A guarantee PTA is used when requesting an early PTA for pre-award spending or spending in advance of a fully executed award. 

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IO (Institutional Official)

The IO (Institutional Official) is an individual named by Stanford, who is authorized to act for the institution, and to assume the obligations imposed by federal, state and local laws, regulations, requirements and conditions, as well as Stanford policy that applies to a proposal and award.

The IO reviews, endorses, signs and submits proposals to the sponsor on behalf of Stanford. In signing a proposal and in accepting a corresponding award, this individual certifies that Stanford will comply with the assurances and certifications referenced in the application. 

This individual's signature further certifies that Stanford will be accountable both for appropriate use of funds awarded and performance of the sponsored project activities resulting from the application.

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MTDC - Modified Total Direct Cost

MTDC is the base to which F&A (indirect cost) rates are applied. The Uniform Guidance excludes participant support costs from the MTDC base and defines this base for sponsored projects awarded on or after December 26, 2014 as follows:

MTDC means all direct salaries and wages, applicable fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and up to the first $25,000 of each subaward (regardless of the period of performance of the subawards under the award). MTDC excludes equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, rental costs, tuition remission, scholarships and fellowships, participant support costs and the portion of each subaward in excess of $25,000.

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NCX (No Cost Extension)

A no-cost extension extends the project period beyond the original project end date. As the phrase “no cost” suggests, there is no additional funding. It allows a PI (Principal Investigator) additional time to complete the scope of work of her/his project without additional funding. The fact that funds remain at the expiration of the grant is not, in itself, sufficient justification for an extension without additional funds. 

A no-cost extension may be requested by the PI when all three of the following conditions are met:

  1. The end of the project period is approaching, AND
  2. There is a programmatic need to continue the research, AND
  3. There are sufficient funds remaining to cover the extended effort

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NOA (Notice of Award)

The SeRA NOA is an email to the PI and PTA Manager generated by the SeRA system which indicates that a sponsored project award has been fully set up in Oracle financials and contains the Oracle PTA account number.

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The PDRF (Proposal Development Routing Form) is an electronic form that is accessed through the SeRA system. PIs and department administrators are required to use the PDRF to document, route and track a proposal for institutional review. 

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PI Quarterly Review and Certification

The PI is responsible for reviewing all project expenses including cost shared expenses and certifying that the costs are appropriate. The following certification statement appears on Expenditure Statements for every sponsored project and cost sharing account:

The principal investigator confirms: to the best of my knowledge, salary and wages charged to this project are appropriate in relation to work performed on this project. All other costs charged to this project are, to the best of my knowledge, appropriate. Where required, corrections have been or will be made through the accounting system.

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Preaward Spending

It is possible to spend before the anticipated award start date if the sponsor authorizes it in writing.

Most federal sponsors allow preaward spending for grants 90 calendar days prior to the anticipated award start date.

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A proposal is a detailed request for funding usually prepared in accordance with the sponsor’s instructions. A PI (Principal Investigator) documents his/her research ideas and methodology in a detailed proposal to ask for a potential sponsor's financial support. The proposal is submitted to the sponsor for funding consideration; acceptance by the sponsor is conveyed by an award to Stanford University.


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SBS (Stanford Based Salary)

SBS (Stanford Base Salary) is the annual compensation paid by Stanford to individuals whose time is spent on research, teaching and/or other activities. It includes:regular and supplemental salary. It excludes bonus payments and extra compensation such as faculty housing allowance, tuition reimbursement, etc.and any income that an individual is permitted to earn outside of Stanford responsibilities e.g., consulting payments. It may not be increased as a result of replacing Stanford’s salary funds with sponsored project funds


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SeRA (Stanford Electronic Reseaerch Administration) System

SeRA supports various stages of the sponsored project lifecycle and is evolving into the institutional system of record for sponsored projects. The Proposal Development and Routing Form (PDRF) is accessed through the SeRA system.

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SOW (Statement of Work)

The statement of work also called project description or purpose must justify the What and Why of the project.  It answers the question Why should this work be done?

In addition, it contains the How and When of the project. It answers the question What is the plan of actin and how will the hypothesis be explored and tested?

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A Solicitation is a publicly available document by which a federal agency, corporation, foundation or other nonprofit agency make known its intentions to award discretionary grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts, usually as a result of competition for funds. The solicitation is the roadmap for putting together the proposal. At Stanford, a Solicitation is typically called a Program Announcement (PA).

Each funding agency may use a different term for a solicitation. Some common terms: PA (Program Announcement), Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA), Requests for Applications (RFA), Broad Area Announcement (BAA), Notices of Funding Availability.


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A sponsored award notification is a communication (formal or informal) from an external sponsor to the University or to a PI (Principal Investigator) that their proposal has been selected to be awarded.

It may be an informal communication between an external sponsor and a PI. Some agencies like NIH have a formal mechanism. See NIH Notice of Award.

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A sponsored project is an externally funded activity governed by terms and conditions specified in a written agreement between the sponsor and an entity such as Stanford University. The sponsored agreement is the legal instrument that binds the university to perform the Statement of Work under the direction of a PI (principal investigator) and further specifies the level of funding.

View a full description and comparison to other types of funding here

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A subaward is a formal written agreement made between Stanford University and another institution or organization to perform an intellectually significant portion of the SOW (Statement of Work) under a Stanford sponsored project.

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TGP (Tuition Grant Program)

The TGP (Tuition Grant Program) Fringe rate is assessed on regular benefits eligible salaries charged to all non-government funded PTA’s including sponsored projects, operating budgets and auxiliary PTAs to support the costs of the Tuition Grant Program.  

The TGP charge appears in expenditure type 51770 FRINGE BENEFITS TGP.

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Uniform Guidance

The Uniform Guidance, issued by OMB (Office of Management and Budget), streamlines and supersedes guidance that was previously contained in eight different OMB Circulars for all new federal awards and increments with effective dates on or after 12/26/2014. 

Included in the new guidance are definitions, uniform administrative requirements (both pre- and post-award), cost principles, and audit requirements. From Stanford's perspective, the Uniform Guidance supersedes OMB Circulars A-110, A-21, and A-133.

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