Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Broken Promises--An Expert Replies

I posed the following question that a reader sent in to a grant-writing expert:

"A grant proposal names a particular individual as "consultant" and lists their credentials to perform consulting work.  The grant is awarded.  To what extent is the PI obligated to hire that individual?  Could another consultant be retained without repercussion?  Does the proposal constitute a contract between the institution and the consultant? What if the would-be consultant becomes seriously ill, or has a "falling out" with the PI before the grant work starts?"

Several readers have responded to the poll I posted (in right nav bar), and it seems that the majority so far agree with the expert:

"The award of grant funds by a funding agency to a PI is essentially a contract between the funding agency and the PI to carry out the proposed research.  Usually the answer to “change of consultant” is yes.  The funding agency approved the PI’s budget, which contained the consultancy position.  The agency does not normally approve each individual listed in the budget, other than the PI.  If the budgetary position had not been approved, the PI could not use any of those grant funds for hiring a consultant.  The PI generally has options about which personnel are to be supported on the grant, including any necessary changes to accomplish the research.

The PI did not offer the reason for the change, but it would be well to consider at least two aspects.

1) Review all correspondence and conversations between the PI and the initial consultant to determine to what extent the consultant may have been “promised” the position.  If there were obligations made or implied, to what extent would they be legally binding if brought to court?

2) Gather all pertinent material about the replacement consultant and then contact the Project Officer of the funding agency.  Cite the reasons for the change, the expertise of the new consultant, and offer to send on further documentation.  Assure the Project Officer that the research can/will be carried out under the terms of the award with the new consultant."

~ Charles F. Howard, Jr., Ph.D

You don't necessarily have to agree with this.  Please indicate your preference in the poll or tell us about any experience you've had with a similar situation.

If you are interested in learning more about grant writing, Dr. Howard is hosting an audioconference on January 26, 2010 at 1:00pm EST: Writing Successful Grant Proposals

1 comment:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The opinion of this "expert" about this issue is completely worthless.

First, a grant is *not* a contract. That is why it is called a "grant" and not a "contract". Federal scientific granting agencies like NIH, NSF, DOE, USDA, etc, disburse funds both via grants and contracts, and there is a big difference between the two.

Second, agencies have statutory laws, federal regulations, and administrative policy statements that govern the discretion of PIs to rebudget funds, reassign different individuals to personnel slots in a grant, and otherwise change things after award of the grant from how they were proposed in the funded grant application. For example, the only personnel slots that require notice to NIH if the individual filling that slot is changed are those identified in the Notice of Grant Award as "key personnel" (not those listed by the PI as key personnel in the grant application).

It is absolutely ridiculous for this "grant-writing expert" to attempt to provide general guidance on this matter, without knowing any of the necessary specifics of the particular granting agency and the applicable laws, regulations, and administrative policies that govern the grant, including any specific terms and conditions in the Notice of Grant Award for the particular grant. Finally, it is worth pointing out that consulting a "grant-writing expert" for advice on matters of post-award grants management is about as useful as consulting a gynecologist for advice on how to potty train a toddler.