Jesse Hall viewed through Memorial Union arch

As the University of Missouri’s official liaison with federal agencies, industry partners and other research funders, the Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) focuses on helping investigators get their grant applications out the door, negotiates contracts and works hand in hand with college and school research administrators to manage funds once awarded.

SPA’s role is to oversee grants and contracts awarded from entities outside the university (known as sponsored projects). Currently there are more than 4,600 active awards totaling $1.39 billion.

“There’s a lot of pressure for our investigators to secure research funding,” said Craig David, director of sponsored programs. “We assist in that effort. We’re definitely a customer service office; that’s our focus.”

Read on for best practices and answers to frequently asked questions gleaned from a recent conversation with David and SPA senior associate directors Brenda Leuenberger and Chad Hampton.

Why do grant proposals go through SPA before submission to the sponsor?
Sponsored Programs Administration has delegated authority to sign agreements on behalf of the institution. Most funders will only accept proposals from an authorized official on behalf of the university. Investigators do not have the authority to sign contracts binding MU to obligations outlined in their proposals.

Why do I need to get my grant proposal to SPA five days ahead of my sponsor's deadline?
On average, MU researchers submit more than 1,900 proposals a year. SPA professionals work with detailed checklists during the review process, making sure each proposal is in line with agency guidelines, complies with institutional policies and procedures and asks for the right amount of funding. For example, some researchers don’t realize their budget should include the cost of tuition if graduate student assistantships are part of the grant. Not including or incorrectly calculating facilities and administrative costs (F&A) is another common budget error. SPA needs time to work with investigators to make corrections or adjustments to ensure they have enough funding to do the scope of work. 

Why does MU recover F&A costs?
Funds provided by outside sponsors of research, instruction, public service or other services must include an appropriate amount to offset F&A costs. Often called indirect costs or overhead, F&A is a recovery of costs that the university has already incurred to perform research. 

How do I request a nondisclosure agreement?
Each year, SPA professionals also execute more than 800 agreements that allow investigators working with collaborators to share or receive confidential information and materials. Investigators should login to MU’s eCompliance portal and complete an intake form to request nondisclosure, material transfer and data transfer/use agreements. Questions? Contact or 573-882-0275. Only authorized university officials can execute these agreements.

Why does it take time to negotiate industry contacts?
When an industry partner sponsors research at MU, SPA often must negotiate terms in the contract with corporate attorneys about ownership of potential intellectual property or timing of when the investigator can publish research results. Competing priorities can require some back-and-forth negotiation to get a contract in place that’s acceptable to both parties.

I received my grant award. When can I hire people and start my research?
SPA must follow multiple steps to make sure MU is fiscally responsible and a good steward of awarded funding. For example, staff may need to negotiate terms and conditions with the agency and make sure Institutional Review Board approvals, conflict of interest requirements and animal assurance and environmental health and safety protocols are in place. When complete, investigators will receive their fully executed grant agreement along with a Grant Award Summary, which includes a MoCode so research spending can begin.

What else does SPA do after a grant is awarded?
SPA works with department research administrators to help manage awards, making sure, in the end, that revenue equals expenditures on every grant. Staff provide investigators with guidance on how they can and cannot spend the money, issue monthly reports to help them monitor expenditures and assist in obtaining extensions on grants if more time is needed to finish the research.