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Grant Accounting: Two Sides of the Same Coin

By SRAI News posted 07-08-2021 09:27 AM


Grant Accounting: Two Sides of the Same Coin

There is a tendency in research administration to compartmentalize functions and tasks into neat little silos or boxes. As it relates to research administration and the grant life cycle it’s not unusual to hear people ask each other “what are you?” meaning how they classify each other on either the pre-award or post-award side of the house. This distinction in function may differ across institutions, especially if these functions are consolidated into one office or perhaps at the department or school level where a particular office or even an individual may handle the whole grant cycle from beginning to end.  More common, however, is to see the pre-award and post-award functions not only separated but also highlighted as distinct in form and function. Professional development and training may even highlight this distinction with targeted training in either pre-award or post-award offered on a routine basis (SRAI for example offers excellent training, workshops, and webinars in post-award or pre-award).

Basic Grant Accounting.  Grant accounting, typically considered part of the post-award process, is nothing but two sides of the same coin. In other words, although grant accounting may be a distinct function, it is connected to and an extension of the pre-award process.

It is crucial for personnel in charge of post-award functions to have a good understanding of the proposal budget from the pre-award stage and more immediately from any award terms and conditions which may impact or dictate grant accounting actions and other project management and monitoring activities.

As one example, grant account set up is a basic but crucial grant accounting activity. The way a grant account is set up is normally dictated by the budget developed in the pre-award stage, submitted with the grant proposal, and approved through the award document. Grant accountants need this basic information to start the post-award, project management process. This may seem like a basic step but it really drives the process as grant accounting is largely dictated by the available award budget. If the account set up and loading of the correct proposal/award budget, is incorrect then the ripple effect is that other activities, including reporting, available balance inquiry, and expense monitoring may be incorrect.

What’s My Balance?  Accuracy of account balances is often a concern of investigators and grant accountants alike. Naturally, the account balance depends on the appropriate charges expensed to the grant as the project is executed and the work on the grant is conducted and completed. It is important to keep in mind that the balance will be incorrect if the appropriate proposal/award budget is not loaded as the basic starting point. As the first step in the grant accounting process, grant accountants, whether located in central or at the school or unit level offices, should ensure the account set up and budget set up process is complete and correct based on the proposal/award budget. 

The concept that post-award, and therefore grant accounting, begins in pre-award is obvious. This concept becomes a challenge when processes are thought of as distinct rather than as part of an integrated cycle with interdependent parts. Pre-award and post-award are two sides of the same coin.

Future articles will explore grant accounting in more detail and as part of an integrated system of grants administration.  Do you have any checklists? Stay tuned. 

Authored by

alcaine_thumb.png Dr. Jose Alcaine, Director of Research Services, Affiliate Faculty Foundations of Education, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University, SRA International Virginia Chapter President Elect kcalvo.png Kayla Calvo, CRA, Business Administrator, integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV), University of Virginia, SRA International Virginia Chapter Immediate Past President