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What is a Subaward?

Subawards are legally binding, formal agreements issued by the University for collaborative grant/contract activities involving personnel at other institutions.

The subcontract, at a minimum, must include a scope of work for the project, a description of the services or tasks to be performed by the subcontractor, and a schedule for deliverables, including any reports. The subcontract document must be executed by the University and the institution employing the subcontractor (or, if an independent subcontractor is used, by the subcontractor). Although monthly or quarterly progress payments or cost reimbursements are made at intervals over the time period of the contract, final payment for services normally occurs after it has been confirmed that the work performed by the subcontractor is satisfactory and in accordance with the terms of the subcontract agreement.

The use of subagreements ensures that all applicable grant or contract clauses are included to meet legal, financial, and reporting requirements. The OSPA director signs all subagreement documents on behalf of the University. OSPA will work with the subawardee's institution to implement the subagreement.

When a subagreement (subcontract, subgrant, or memorandum of understanding) is required, it is the principal investigator’s responsibility to contact Contracts at OSPA as soon as possible to initiate the subaward process.

Why include a Subaward in your project?

Subcontractors can be used to:

  • accomplish work that may not be within the PI's area of expertise
  • relieve the PI of some project tasks so he/she can work on other tasks
  • provide technical assistance using equipment, instruments, assessments, or analyses not available to the PI.

Subcontractors are usually identified through the PI's personal contacts, past research or scholarly collaborations, and recommendations by others.

Make sure to discuss the project with the potential subcontractor before submitting a proposal or working toward developing a subcontract relationship to ensure that the potential subcontractor can perform the work needed within the time frame required.  Be aware of the subcontractor's strengths and weaknesses, possibly from other researchers or scholars who have worked with the subcontractor, to determine reliability, work quality, and cooperativeness.

Required Components for Subagreement Preparation (Provided by PI/PD)

  • Detailed scope of work, with time lines for accomplishing tasks and producing reports of results, and with methods, procedures, and analyses clearly specified
  • Budget for the costs related to the subawardee’s portion of the work

Principal Investigator/Project Director Responsibilities related to Subawards

  • Works with OSPA to ensure that the subcontract includes a scope of work that clearly communicates what is expected of the subcontractor
  • Provides oversight of the project throughout its duration
  • Ensures that objectives are met within the specified time
  • Makes certain that the costs incurred fit the budget
  • Guarantees that the quality of the project reflects well on the PI and the University and is acceptable to the funding agency
  • Understands that the subcontractor can only be required to produce the work specified in the subaward agreement
  • Recognizes that if changes to the scope of work become necessary as the project evolves, this may necessitate changes to the subaward agreement
  • Manage problems, if they arise
  • Familiarize yourself with Subaward (Subrecipient) Monitoring Guidelines
  • Contact Contracts immediately if problems arise that cannot be resolved by conversations with the subawardee’s PI

Suggestions for Dealing with Problems in the Subaward Relationship

If problems come up during the course of the project:

  • Talk with the subcontractor about what is needed and what is lacking in light of what was agreed to in the subcontract. Try to work out a suitable accommodation.
  • If possible, keep on top of the work being performed so that any performance problems on the part of the subcontractor are identified early, not so late in the project that there is too little time for remediation.
  • If the PI/project manager also has responsibilities that affect the subcontractor's work, such as providing materials needed by the subcontractor, it is important that those responsibilities be taken seriously and met in a timely fashion.

If the problems are not resolved by talking with the subcontractor:

  • Discuss the problems with Contracts
  • PI/project manager, OSPA, and others (e.g., Grant & Contract Accounting, University Legal Counsel) may need to work together with the subcontractor's institution, business, or agency to attempt to resolve the situation.
  • Typically, the subcontract must be relied upon as the basis for determining issues such as the quantity of work, adherence to the scope of work, and costs. Issues of work quality are more difficult to determine and may be more contentious, thereby requiring more time to resolve. However, every attempt will be made to resolve the situation if possible.
  • Sometimes situations cannot be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. In these cases, University Legal Counsel must provide guidance about the costs/benefits of different possible courses of action, and the University must consider issues such as legal liability, relations with the funding agency that may affect other faculty, previous or ongoing relationships with the subcontracting institution, business, or agency, and the fiscal magnitude of the issues involved.