Last year, Oregon State generated $262 million in research funding, more than all other public universities in Oregon combined. While that feat undoubtedly required innumerable hours of data collection, analysis and experimentation, not all of the work that made Oregon State the state’s leading public research university happened in a lab. In fact, the foundation for last year’s research, as well as that of years past, was laid in the university’s Finance and Administration Office.
Kim Calvery heads up the Office of Post-Award Administration, a group of grant and funding experts who manage the accounting and administrative requirements attached to grants, enabling researchers’ innovative projects to operate efficiently and without obstacles.
“We’re the true liaison between the sponsors and the campus community,” Calvery says.
When researchers are chasing cures for neurodegenerative diseases or exploring new methods of harvesting green energy, keeping track of paperwork deadlines might not be their first priority. Those deadlines, however, are essential to continued funding from federal grants, and a thorough understanding of grant procedures and requirements is necessary to prevent violations that could halt a project or have legal ramifications. That’s where Calvery and her team step in.
“I think the importance of what we do is taking care of the behind-the-scenes administration of the award, which allows the scientist to get the research done with minimal impact on the financial matters,” Calvery says.
Staff in the Office of Post-Award Administration work with federal agencies to ensure grant funds are used according to procedure and handle all of the administrative aspects of securing an extension or grant renewal when necessary. Calvery draws on 29 years of experience with the office to help navigate agencies’ varying procedures and requirements. Her knowledge, along with that of others in the office with similar histories, comprises a wealth of information that principal investigators can rely on.
“Kim’s office has really developed the expertise about what different sponsors or federal agencies are looking for or what costs are allowed, so they have a lot of in-depth knowledge, where a PI doesn’t have that experience,” says Director of Business Affairs Aaron Howell.
With help from post-award administration, researchers work on an individual level with business center accountants across campus to maintain day-to-day necessities like paying bills, while the Office of Post-Award Administration reports to the agency funding the research. When agencies choose to audit an award, Calvery or her staff meet with the auditors before they speak to the researchers to familiarize them with how the award is being regulated.
“In our situation, it’s pretty rare that the auditors meet with the PIs, because the office can demonstrate the controls we have in place and that the awards are very highly maintained,” Howell says.
And the Office of Post-Award Administration staff members have proven their reliable stewardship in multiple ways. Out of last year’s $262 million in research funding, $207 million came from externally sponsored awards that the office handled. The office has an excellent audit record, and its procedures were used as the model for similar offices within the Oregon University System. This consistency, Howell says, not only helps research operate more smoothly on campus — it also contributes to attracting more support to the university.
“I think the fact that we have a stellar audit record has a lot to do with the amount of research money we receive,” Howell says. “In my opinion, this office represents a best-in-class organization.”
Handling the administrative tasks that help projects continue without interruption while bringing minimal attention to the work required means researchers often don’t notice how much effort goes into keeping their projects funded and accountable. But according to Calvery and Howell, being unnoticed is part of the goal.
“We allow them to take it for granted that things will run smoothly,” Howell says. “This office provides the experience and the expertise that facilitates the great research Oregon State does in a way that really frees the researcher to focus on that.”
For more information about the work of OPAA and F&A, check out our 2011-2012 Annual Report.