Administrators and the Responsible Conduct of Research
Financial Management:

Financial Management


Mary Smith had been working as a department administrator in the History Department for about six months. She was hired as a department secretary, but upon assuming her job she was told by the Department Chair that she would also be responsible for managing the sponsored awards for the department. He apologized for not mentioning it previously, but there were only a few grants and he did not consider it an important part of the job. Mary was at a loss. She did not know the first thing about sponsored project administration. When she called the Office of Research Administration she was told that they had periodic training sessions and the next round of sessions would start in two months.

About a month after Mary completed her training, Prof. Schwartz approached Mary and handed her some travel expenses and directed her to charge them to his National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant. As she was going through the expenses, she saw that Prof. Schwartz had traveled to a three day conference on American History in Orlando, Florida, but then she noticed he had stayed for seven days. When she asked Prof. Schwartz about this, he told her that he decided to take his family for a short vacation after the conference. He told her that he did not was not asking for reimbursement of any of his family's expenses, just his extended hotel bill. Besides, by staying longer he actually saved money on the airfare. He told her to just put the reimbursement through since he had plenty of money left in his grant and, because the airfare was so much cheaper, the difference was just a few dollars anyway. After all, as long as the costs are reasonable, no-one would ever question the expense.

Administrators are frequently placed in situations that require ethical decision-making. Sometimes the situations result from a principal investigatorPrincipal Investigator
An individual designated by the institution to direct the project or activity being supported by external funding. He or she is responsible and accountable to the institution and sponsor for the proper conduct of the project or activity.
(PI) not being aware of relevant policies and regulations. Occasionally, the situations are cause by a PI placing his or her personal interests over those of his or her employer. Administrators, whether in academic departments or in the central administrative offices, need to be aware of both the policies of their institutions as well as the policies and regulations imposed by sponsors. Administrative staff need to be able to recognize potential problems and to ask the right questions. This will lead to resolving problems early in the process – provided that administrators combine knowledge with appropriate and ethical decision-making.

In this module, we will cover five major areas in which ethical decisions may arise.

  1. Allowable, Allocable, Reasonable Costs
  2. Cost-Sharing
  3. Effort Reporting
  4. Cost Transfers

It is not possible to cover all possible financial management scenarios in which ethical problems may arise. Rather, what we hope to assist the reader to develop both an awareness that can be applied to new situations and skills in ethical reasoning. The goal of this module is to provide a basic overview of expectations in areas in which ethical problems may occur and scenarios that offer practice in problem-solving and reasoning.

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