The PI has overall responsibility for both the technical and fiscal management of his or her sponsored projects. This includes the management of the project within the established budget, and assurance that the sponsor will be notified when significant conditions related to the project change.
The sponsor also has an interest in seeing that projects are managed reasonably in conformance with the established budget. Sponsors can and do recall funding in situations where EITHER funds are being used too quickly OR funds are not being used quickly enough.
Here are some scenarios, loosely adapted from reality:
- The overdraft that ate Cleveland
- A PI realized, as her project progressed, that she could reasonably expand the scope of work in a new direction. Although she did not have the funds to support this extension of the work, she discussed the situation with the project Technical Monitor and began taking steps in the new direction. The Technical Monitor was encouraging, but could not promise additional funding.
Realizing that this new work might not be funded by the sponsor, the PI sought and obtained additional gift support for her lab. She set those funds aside to support the new work in the event that the sponsor did not provide the additional funding.
While waiting to hear whether or not additional sponsored funds would be provided, the spending on the project accelerated to a level that would have produced a seven-figure overrun. At this point, the sponsor's Administrative Officer (Grant/Contract Officer) became aware of the situation, and questioned the allowability, allocability and reasonableness of the expenses being charged.
Although this situation was ultimately resolved satisfactorily, it created a serious problem for both the university and for the PI - a problem that might have been avoided with better communication with the sponsor, and closer monitoring of project expenditures to avoid the monster-sized overdraft.
- The great salamander migration
- A multi-year project was designed to study the migration patterns of a particular salamander. Much of the field and experimental work had to be done during the time of year when salamanders are particularly active, i.e., during the rainy seasons.
As she sometimes does, Mother Nature interfered with the PI's project plans (and budget). A significant drought delayed the salamander's migratory behavior, and made it impossible to conduct the work as scheduled.
At the end of the first year of the project, there was a large unexpended balance in the project's accounts, causing the sponsor to wonder what was happening. Upon an explanation of the circumstances, the sponsor agreed to carry over the unexpended funds for the continuation of the project.
In this case, the Technical Monitor was well aware of the reason for the large unexpended balance of project funds. The Contract Monitor, however, had to authorize the carry-over of project funds. Without proper communication, those "carry over" funds could easily have been recalled.