Effort Certification

Effort certification is the federally mandated process by which the government and other sponsors verify that salaries charged to a project reasonably reflect effort spent on that project during the reporting timeframe. Effort certification is required for every employee who receives a portion of his or her salary from a sponsored project or cost-sharing account.

Inaccurate or late effort reporting may result in:

  • Financial penalties
  • Expense disallowances
  • A spending freeze on the project account
  • Damage to USC’s and your own reputation
  • Potential disciplinary action by the university

Following is an overview of the effort certification process and fundamentals. More detailed information is available in our Effort Reporting Guidance and Effort Certification Troubleshooting Guide. If you need further assistance, contact the Office of Financial Analysis at (213) 821-1937 or email the eCert team.

Link to the Effort Certification System:

The Effort Certification Dashboard (eCert Dashboard) can be accessed directly using the link below or from the TARA portal.

https://kfs.usc.edu/kfs-prd/ecsDashboard.do?methodToCall=docHandler

Certification Process

USC uses a web-based reporting system, eCert, that:

  • Calculates the distribution of effort.
  • Provides a mechanism for those paid through a sponsored project or cost-sharing account to certify the accuracy of the effort reporting.

User Roles

  • Certifiers — principal investigators (PIs) and exempt staff who receive salary payments through a sponsored project.
    • Certifiers are required to have firsthand, technical knowledge of the work being performed.
    • They must complete effort certification documents for themselves and, in the case of PIs with postdoctoral or graduate research assistants, those assistants.
  • Preparers — staff who usually work directly for the PI or are part of a departmental administration team.
    • They may prepare the effort certification documents on behalf of certifiers.
  • Reviewers — generally senior administrators with oversight over departments or programs.
    • They have access to summary reports for their departments/programs and may delegate preparers.

Timing

All 12-month faculty and exempt staff certify their effort after each quarter.  Certification is based on the average effort over the quarter.  The four quarters below are based on USC’s Fiscal Year basis (not Calendar periods).

  • Q1 – July 1–September 30
  • Q2 – October 1–December 31
  • Q3 – January 1–March 31
  • Q4 – April 1–June 30

Certification of effort for nine-month faculty and graduate research assistants is completed after each semester.  Certification is based on the average effort over the semester.  The 3 semester periods below are also based on USC’s fiscal year academic and summer basis.  Certification is based on the average effort over the semester.

  • S01 (Fall Semester) – August 16th –December 31st
  • S02 (Spring Semester) – January 1 –May 15th
  • S03 (Summer Semester) – May 16th  – Aug 15th (for those with summer research supplement funding)

Types of Effort and Salary

Institutional Effort

Institutional effort is the total time spent by a faculty or exempt staff member on university activities, including teaching, research, patient care, service and administrative duties. University responsibilities are reflected in the individual’s appointment letter, contract or job description.

Institutional effort also includes research and clinical activities paid for or managed by the Health Research Association, USC Care Medical Group Inc. and medical directorships. However, it does not include time devoted to activities compensated directly by LAC+USC Medical Center (i.e., county-paid employees), Children’s Hospital Medical Group, USC Roski Eye Institute or USC Alfred Mann Institute.

Effort is not calculated on a 40-hour workweek or any other number of hours per week. Instead, it is based on 100 percent effort for USC (whether the employee is full time or part time).

Institutional Base Salary

Institutional base salary (IBS) is the total guaranteed USC salary for the year, set in advance by the provost, paid to a faculty or staff member for institutional effort (e.g., teaching, research, administration, service and patient care activities). IBS provides the basis for determining how much salary should be charged to grants and contracts.

It includes:

  • Core salary
  • Supplemental salary, such as
    • Administrative stipend
    • Fixed clinical salary
    • Clinical supplements

It excludes:

  • Incentive payments
  • Bonuses
  • Overload teaching
  • Summer administrative stipends or research supplements for nine-month faculty
  • Housing subsidies
  • Education loan repayments

It also excludes any income you earn outside of your USC duties, such as:

  • External consulting
  • Direct pay from LAC+USC Medical Center
  • Pay from USC Roski Eye Institute
  • Pay from Children’s Hospital Medical Group

Salary is charged to the grant or contract based on a good faith estimate of effort actually expended, unless the National Institutes of Health cap is involved. You may never charge more than your actual effort on a project.

Other Institutional Effort

Effort for teaching, administration, service and patient care is included in the Other Institutional Effort category of the e-Cert system.

This category also includes:

  • Medical directorships
  • Voluntary Uncommitted Cost Sharing effort
  • USC Care Medical Group effort

Non-IBS effort — with the exception of summer research funding for nine-month faculty — is not included in this category and does not have to be certified. However, summer research supplements for nine-month faculty must be certified even though they are not included in IBS.

Cost Sharing

Cost sharing is the portion of project or program costs borne by USC instead of by the sponsor. For example, a sponsor awards a $400,000 research grant and the USC academic unit pledges to contribute $50,000 to purchase a piece of equipment needed for the research.

Mandatory Cost Sharing

Some sponsors require cost sharing as a condition of the award. Such mandatory cost sharing is quantified in the proposal.

Voluntary Committed Cost Sharing

This occurs when an investigator proposes to devote a greater percentage of effort to a project than the requested salary support. For example, if an investigator proposes to devote 35 percent effort to a project but only requests 25 percent salary support, the additional 10 percent effort that will be supported by USC is Voluntary Committed Cost Sharing. Voluntary Committed Cost Sharing also can develop during the period of the award. Any such cost sharing must have prior approval by the appropriate dean or vice president.

Voluntary Uncommitted Cost Sharing

This type of cost sharing is not initially promised in the proposal. For example, if an investigator proposes and charges 25 percent effort, but actually devotes 35 percent effort, the additional 10 percent effort that was not originally promised is Voluntary Uncommitted Cost Sharing. Such cost sharing must be supported by unrestricted funds or appropriate gift sources and may not be attributed to another sponsored project.

Note: Voluntary Uncommitted Cost Sharing is not included in the university’s organized research base for computing the indirect cost rate while Voluntary Committed Cost Sharing is included.

Charging Effort

University employees generally are not permitted to allocate 100 percent of their salary to a sponsored project. Some effort should be paid by the USC academic or administrative unit (in particular, proposal writing).

Reduction of Effort

A more than 25 percent reduction in effort performed versus effort committed requires prior approval from most sponsors. Keep in mind that limits vary by sponsor and that the reduction applies to the average effort over the life of the grant. You may never charge more than your actual effort on a project and, if your effort is reduced, the salary charge must be reduced.