Trust, but Verify: Effort Certification

March 15, 2016

As anyone with a grant will tell you (whether you ask or not), there are a lot of reporting requirements, and it makes sense why. Someone has given you money and probably never sees you, so keeping up on how you are spending that money requires trust as well as some verification.

One of those forms of verification is time and effort reporting. It is a federal requirement for those who receive some of their salary from a federal grant (you are both a State of Texas employee and a federal government employee—congratulations!) or contributes time to a federally funded project (which essentially makes you a volunteer for the federal government) to certify the amount of time spent on that project.

Here at UT Dallas, we certify time and effort twice a year. So, during that period, you report and certify how much of your time you spent on a project for that six-month period. This can be an intimating process for several reasons, most of which revolve around swearing to the federal government about how you spent your time several months ago.

Our website has a good list of effort certification frequently asked questions, so I am not going to recreate that valuable tool. But I am going to take a few minutes of your time to hopefully reduce the stress associated with the process.

Let me start with this: Sponsors realize that figuring out exactly how much effort you spent on a project is nearly impossible. As a result, they allow a certain degree of tolerance. So, while you should never just guess at what you did, you should feel okay with an educated estimate.

The second thing is that no one is asking you how many hours you spent on your various projects. It is the percentage of your university time as measured by percentage of your base salary. So, it does not matter how many hours a week you work or how much your weekly hours fluctuate during a six-month period.

Thirdly, when you wrote the grant proposal, you undoubtedly spent some time planning how much time you would need for you and your team to work on the project in order for it to be successful. So, really all you are doing with effort certification is confirming that you were right about the time commitment.

But I do have a few recommendations on how to make your effort certification process easier:

  • Refer back to your grant and award notice regularly to remind yourself what you committed to. Long periods of time can pass between planning a grant project and receiving the award, but your grant proposal plan should help you with the original plans you had to run a successful project.
  • Make sure you and your lab team are keeping up with all lab notebooks and progress reports. This way, when the time to certify comes, you have information on hand to confirm the numbers because you also need to trust and verify.
  • As soon as you realize a project is taking more or less of someone’s effort than you thought, talk to your departmental administrator and your grants specialist. You are going to have to adjust someone’s paperwork to reflect the actual effort (this will not impact their paycheck), and that is something you want to do as soon as you realize it needs to happen.
  • Take the training course on Effort Certification and Time Reporting. It can be done online and will give you an excellent overview of expectations and how the process works.

Just remember, you are not alone when it comes to effort certification. The Office of Post Award Management in the Office of Research will help answer your questions about specific concerns you have regarding your effort certification situation.

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