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JSU team develops ‘elegant system’ to manage grants and contracts

Illiad Kelly, director of Grants and Contracts Management, has the energy of three people combined into one, especially when he is talking about the development of Jackson State University’s unique time and effort tracking system.

Tracy Stapleton

Tracy Stapleton

Illiad Kelly

Illiad Kelly

In March 2013, Kelly came to JSU from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. Upon his arrival, he joined a team of 15 staff members from various units of the university to create an electronic system that would track the time and effort (T&E) of grant employees. As part of a university-wide restructuring process, Grants and Contracts Management was placed under the Division of Research and Federal Relations. To centralize post-award functions, many of the roles and responsibilities were moved from the Budget Office to the Office of Grants and Contracts Management, including:

  • budget set-up;
  • expenditure review and approval;
  • budget transfers; and
  • all other aspects related to financial administration of grant awards.

“Now we are a model for other universities considering the move to electronic time and effort reporting,” Kelly said. The move from a paper system to an electronic system may seem like a minor change, but it is an essential one that has an impact on all researchers and support staff at Jackson State.

Seamless financial process

By linking employees’ time and effort to payroll, the new system allows a seamless financial reconciliation process. Using Banner, grant employees can login to the Time and Effort Module to certify that the portion of their pay attributed to a grant matches the time and effort that they have spent on that grant.

To further enhance the functionality and effectiveness of this unit, Tracy Stapleton, who was the long-time assistant comptroller of the Business Office, became the new Associate Vice President of Research Administration. Stapleton’s reassignment was integral to continuity of fiscal management, and she helped lead the team in setting up a reliable, efficient system to track time and effort of grant employees.

A time and effort administrator was also hired to monitor this process for efficiency and as a means of strengthening internal controls.

“It’s an elegant system. (We) even set up a field in Banner that gave the grant accountants the ability to alert the module to track the time and effort of personnel on a new grant,” Kelly explains. That single change allows Grants and Contracts Management to ensure that new grant employees are correctly entered into the system from the inception of their grants.

Kelly enthuses as he describes the time and effort system. To strengthen controls and check for system accuracy, Kelly also created an internal review process. This process ensures that a proper reconciliation of time and effort certification reports with payroll takes place and is documented.

Implementation

During the initial implementation, the grants and contracts team trained almost 400 faculty and staff members on the new Time and Effort Module during the summer and fall of 2013. Since then, several hundred additional employees have been trained on the system, and all new employees learn about the system during new employee orientation.

In addition to the new time and effort system, new document imaging and electronic record retention systems have been set up. “Now when agencies ask for our records on grants, we can pull them together in a matter of hours — and be sure that they are complete and accurate,” says Stapleton as she describes the thorough and multi-level process for approving and documenting grant expenses.

The Time and Effort Module, clearly something Kelly and Stapleton are proud of, is not the end of the improvements they have had a hand in implementing. Along with training, new policies and procedures were developed for time and effort reporting. The grants and contracts web page now shows grant employees how to certify time and effort, explains why time and effort is important and provides calendars for report due dates and for the monthly time and effort training sessions.

At the end of these time and effort trainings, the principal investigators (PIs) on grants receive a copy of the policies and procedures and sign an “acknowledgement statement” that indicates they understand the requirements and importance of accurate time and effort reporting.

Kelly and the JSU grant accountants also provide grants-management training for PIs on grants. So far, 89 PIs have completed training aimed at both ensuring compliance with federal and state regulations and preparing the PI to expend grant funds appropriately.