UCF Research and Commercialization

FAQ's - Effort Reporting

1. What is effort and effort reporting?
Effort is the work or the proportion of time spent on any activity and expressed as a percentage of the total time for all institutional-based activities.

Effort reporting is a mandatory process as specified in OMB Circular A-21, Section J.10.  It is a purpose mandated by the federal government to verify that direct labor charges to federally approved projects/agreements are reasonable and reflect actual work performed.
2. Is my effort report a system to track hours worked?
No.  While hours worked may be used to calculate the percent effort spent on any project and/or activity, hours are not reported, nor is the calculation of your percent effort based on a 40-hour work week.

For example, If the employee worked 40 hours in one week on a sponsored project and 20 hours in the same week on an unrelated University project, then the employee’s effort report should show 67% effort devoted to the sponsored project (40 hours divided by 60 total-effort hours) and 33% on the unrelated University project -- regardless of the fact that the employee’s normal work week might be 40 hours. Effort is expressed as a percentage based on the total number of hours worked by the individual and is not reflected as hours. The total effort expended cannot exceed 100%.
3. Why is effort reporting important?
Effort reporting is required to be compliant with the regulations that govern the conduct of grant and contract activities at institutions of higher education.  It is the manner by which the federal government audits the commitment of effort, whether charged as a direct cost or cost shared, on the research, training, and other activities they fund.  Universities have been audited and some have had to payback millions of dollars in federal award money because of a lack of effort reporting.
4. Who is required to certify their effort?
All employees who work any portion of their time on sponsored projects, whether they are compensated by that project or not, must certify their effort or have their effort certified.
5. What system is UCF using for effort certification?
UCF is using the Effort Certification and Reporting Technology (ECRT) developed by Huron Consulting Group.
6. How often do I have to certify my effort?
Faculty, A&P employees, and Post Docs will be required to certify their effort on ECRT once per semester.  Faculty will also certify the effort of their researchers once per semester. All other employees will have their effort certified by the PI or an assigned designee.
7. Is it necessary to certify effort associated with dual compensation or overload/extra state compensation, or outside activities?
No. Any UCF personnel engaged in outside consulting, or receiving overload/extra state compensation need not report those activities on their time and effort report, nor should those activities be considered when calculating percentages of effort.
8. Who should certify effort reports?
Federal regulations require that a person with first-hand knowledge certify effort.  This means that departmental personnel cannot certify sponsored research effort on behalf of faculty or other personnel.  In the case of laboratory personnel, it is necessary for supervising faculty or staff to certify on their behalf as they may be unaware of which project their work is towards.
9. When is it necessary to make adjustments to effort or payroll distribution?
Anytime that payroll does not accurately reflect how the employee spent his/her time on the certified effort report by a margin of +/- 5%, an adjustment to effort and payroll distribution is necessary. OMB Circular A-21 recognizes that activities that comprise an individual’s total effort (teaching, research, service, administration, etc) are often difficult to separate and that “an exact assessment of factors that contribute to costs is not always feasible, nor is it expected.” Certification must rely on a reasonable estimate of effort during a specified time period, and when estimating, a degree of tolerance is acceptable and appropriate.  UCF recognizes this degree of tolerance to be no more than +/- 5%.
10. How do I determine if my effort is a direct charge or cost sharing?
Cost sharing is a commitment of institutional funding or resources for which the University is not compensated by the sponsoring agency. Anytime effort exceeds payroll that is direct charged to a sponsored project, the result is cost sharing. When effort exceeds pay, the difference must be cost shared by the University. These costs are not paid by the sponsoring agency and therefore must be covered by University funds. There are three types of cost sharing:
  1. Mandatory/Committed: cost sharing that is required by a funding agency, documented in the proposal, and agreed to in the sponsor’s awarding documents.  This type of cost sharing should always be charged to established companion accounts set up specifically to track and report UCF fulfillment of its commitment.
  2. Voluntary/Committed: cost sharing that the sponsor did not require, but the proposal nonetheless included, and subsequently became a condition of the award.  This type of cost sharing should also be tracked from companion accounts.
  3. Voluntary/Uncommitted: cost sharing that the University expended on the project, but was not required by the sponsor.

    For example, your proposal to NSF states that you are going to work and direct charge 20% of your time on your NSF award during the Fall semester.  When completing you effort report, you calculate that you actual spent 30% of your effort on that project, but still only direct charged 20%.  Your effort report should accurately reflect the 30%, and the “extra” 10% effort is voluntary/uncommitted cost sharing.
All effort (whether cost shared or direct charged) must be tracked and reported.
11. NSF requires use of person-months rather than percent effort, so how do I convert person-months to % effort?
To convert person-months to % effort, divide the number of person-months by the total number of months in the period (4.5 months = Fall, 4.5 months = Spring, 9 months = Academic Year)

1.5 person-months in the summer:
1.5 (person-months)/3 (total number of summer months) = 50% effort
3.5 person-months in the academic year:
3.5 (person-months)/9 (total number of months in the academic year) = 38% effort
12. Do I have to report time and effort on sponsored projects during the academic year when my salary is being charged to the department?
The goal of effort certification is to certify activities performed, not payroll.  Any work towards any project should be certified towards that project, regardless of whether payroll was also charged to that project for the same period.

The most common example of this is when a grant is only charged summer salary for a PI and/or CoPI.  The reality is that work is ongoing throughout the academic year, and your efforts towards that project should be certified to reflect your activity.
13. My salary is paid from contracts and grants and I do not have academic responsibilities. How do I account for effort towards preparing proposals and other administrative responsibilities?
No individual should certify 100% effort on externally-funded contracts or grants during any certification period, especially if they submitted any proposals during that period, and/or attended routine departmental or center meetings unrelated to a specific project.  It is recommended that a minimal amount of effort be certified towards administrative duties and proposal preparation for each certification period.  Consistent with University policy, as long as this effort is below the 5% threshold, no cost transfers should be required.
14. How does effort relate to hours worked and FTE?
FTE and hours worked are tools used to determine effort, but they are not effort certification. Hours and/or FTE should not be reported as effort.

FTE is the proportion of any activity against a full time equivalency. It is normally used to determine the breakdown of salary against several funding sources, and to identify part-time employees.

When you are reporting your effort, you always report to 100%. Whether you are 1.0 FTE or not, you must account for 100% of your total professional effort. In other words, a person on a .5 FTE is considered a part-time employee. If they are working on only one project, their effort certification should reflect 100% effort towards that project.

Hours can be used to calculate effort, but it cannot assume that 40 hours is a work week. If a person commits 50% of their time to a project, and when they certify they determine that they worked 20 hours every week, but actually worked 50 hour weeks, they cannot certify 50% effort. The other pitfall of hours is that the fewer time per year we certify, the more difficult it becomes to defend the validity of the time worked on a project/department and the total time spent on University activities for employee classes that do not complete timecards.