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General

Exactly what is ecrt?

ecrt is the University of Pittsburgh's online effort reporting tool that is used by PI's to facilitate effort certification. ecrt also provides information over the course of the year to assist department and central administrators with monitoring effort and making appropriate adjustments to effort distributions on a timely basis. Salary distribution and Cost Sharing data are loaded to ecrt on a nightly basis which allows users to review distributions and make adjustments as needed throughout the period of performance. ecrt training and resources are available for all users.

How do I access ecrt?

ecrt is accessible through my.pitt.edu. When you login you will see an ecrt link on your landing page – it will be grouped with your links to other systems on the right-hand side of the page. If you click on the ecrt link you will first see a Welcome page, click continue to navigate to your Home Page in the system.

What is my Username?

You will not have a specific ecrt username – you will use your my.pitt.edu username to log into the portal and then click the ecrt link from there.

What is my Password?

You will not have a specific ecrt password – you will use your my.pitt.edu password to log into the portal and then click the ecrt link from there.

Why am I receiving emails from ecrt?

ecrt sends automatic emails at the beginning of each Certification Period to every user who has certification responsibility in the system. As the period progresses, there are 3 other automatic reminder emails that are sent from the system. Only PIs who have outstanding responsibilities will receive the reminder emails.

I have encountered issues with ecrt displays and performance when using different computers. What are the vendor's recommended system requirements?

To ensure proper performance in the ecrt application, the vendor recommends use of the following browsers:

  • The latest version of Firefox
  • The latest version of Google Chrome
  • Internet Explorer 9
  • The latest version of Safari for Mac computers
They further recommend monitor screen resolution to be a minimum of 1024x768 or higher. The ecrt application is designed to work on the Mac or PC, the browser is the key.

I just received a questionnaire regarding my effort distribution of 100% to sponsored programs. What is the purpose of this survey?

The purpose of this survey is twofold. First, for faculty who perform no institutional-type activities, the completed, signed survey serves as documentation that the 100% research distribution is appropriate. Second, for faculty who perform institutional-type activities as listed on the survey, the survey serves as a tool to identify and quantify effort devoted to non-sponsored activities. Any faculty member who answers 'yes' to one or more of the survey questions should consult with his/her fiscal administrator to modify their SPAR form to recognize some portion of their effort as institutional.

If I have questions, whom should I contact?

You can receive help in a number of ways. Every effort statement has a Get Help button
that opens an email to your Primary Effort Coordinator. You can also learn more general
information about the page you are viewing in ecrt by clicking the Help button at the top right
corner of the page. Additionally, assistance can be obtained by emailing
sparhelp@cfo.pitt.edu.

Effort Certification

Why are effort reporting and certification such a big deal?

The Federal Office of the Inspector General has performed effort reporting audits at a number of large research institutions. These audits have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements stemming from disallowed compensation costs due to late or missing effort certifications and other effort reporting noncompliance. Given Pitt's lofty rankings and high-profile research, the University must be prepared in the event that an audit comes our way. To that end, the University undertook an initiative to improve our compliance over effort reporting which included policy development based on federal regulations, an upgrade to the SPAR system and the implementation of the electronic certification application, ecrt.

The University's investment in these new effort reporting tools has streamlined effort certification for faculty to reduce the risk of disallowed salaries, fringe benefits and associated indirect costs recovered through federally funded projects. As competition for federal funding increases and funding levels decline, it is important that the University is viewed as a good steward of federal funds, complying with all fiscal requirements.

Who has to certify their effort?

All PIs on Federal Projects will certify their own effort. PIs will also certify for every individual working on their projects except for those individuals who are also PIs.

Why do I have to certify my effort?

OMB Circular A-21 (Cost Principles for Educational Institutions) requires some form of after-the-fact confirmation that labor expenses represent actual costs of the work performed.

How often do I have to certify my effort going forward?

All PIs will certify 3 times a year.

When do I have to certify my effort and how long do I have to do so?

There are three Periods of Performance that coincide with the University’s academic periods, September-December, January-April and May-August.  The 45-day certification window will open approximately three weeks following the end of the Period of Performance.  You will receive an email notifying you of the opening of the certification window.  Certification schedules are posted on the Financial Compliance for Research website at http://www.cfo.pitt.edu/fcr/certification_schedules.php.

What time period is covered by this certification?

The certification covers one 4-month academic period.  The Periods of Performance are September-December, January-April and May-August.  The gold header on each effort statement will identify the Period of Performance related to that effort statement.

How is my percentage of effort for each activity determined?

As the Principal Investigator (PI), you are ultimately responsible for effort distributions to your federally sponsored projects. Effort distributions are dynamic representations of each employee's activities. The determination of these distributions requires a dialog between the PI and fiscal administrators. The PI must provide estimates of time devoted to each activity for him\herself and each employee working on his/her sponsored projects. The PI must communicate any significant change in activity (work beginning on a new project, work ending on a completed project, realignment of duties between research personnel, etc.) to the fiscal administrator. Actual effort distributions must be representative of work performed, not based on budget availability. Fiscal administrators will ensure budget compliance through modifications to salary distribution where required, leaving actual effort percentages unchanged.

Why do I have to check the checkboxes when I certify a statement?

Checking the checkboxes is a confirmation that you have reviewed the line and agree with
the percentage of effort that was spent on the project.

Who certifies the effort of research staff that work on sponsored projects for more than one PI?

All PIs related to a particular research employee will have access to that employee’s effort statement.  In the Federal Sponsored Project section of the effort statement, each PI will only have certification check boxes next to the project(s) for which he/she is the PI.  Acknowledgement check boxes will also appear on the total lines for the Non-Federal Sponsored and Non-Sponsored sections of the effort statement.

Why am I asked to certify effort on activities that I am not familiar with nor do I have any control over?

You are not being asked to certify effort on activities unfamiliar to you. The effort statement shows all activities comprising the University appointment so that you have the framework necessary for determining whether the effort percentages associated to your federal sponsored projects are reasonable and in line with the employee's total University effort. These other activities should be somewhat familiar to you as they would have been considered initially when deciding the portion of the employee's workload available for your project. If the percentages of effort assigned to your federal sponsored projects do not appear reasonable, based on your first-hand knowledge of the work performed on those projects, in relation to all other activities, you are responsible to consult with others to resolve your concerns or have the percentages adjusted.

When I check the box in acknowledgment of other non-sponsored activities, what should I be looking for?

You should be acknowledging that the federal effort is reasonable based on the employee's total portfolio of work. This acknowledgement of your research personnel's total effort should be a confirmation of your understanding of his/her effort devoted to other activities when initially determining his/her level of participation on your project.

For example, staff member Jason spends one day per week in your lab working on your federal sponsored project A. His effort statement shows 20% (or 1/5) of his effort on Project A and 80% in non-sponsored activity. This distribution appears to be reasonable based on your first-hand knowledge that Jason is in your lab one day per week and 1 day out of 5 would represent 20% of his effort.

If Jason's statement displayed a distribution of 50% to Project A and 50% to non-sponsored activities, this does not appear to be reasonable. In checking with the fiscal administrator, you learn that Jason only works 2 days per week, therefore, the 50% effort to your Project A is reasonable since it represents of his University appointment. If Jason instead worked a full-time schedule (5 days per week), a reduction in effort associated to Project A would be required.

I certified my effort. Am I done?

There are two places you can check in ecrt to confirm that you are done. On the Home
Page if the Statements Awaiting Certification tab is empty, you are done. On the Effort
Certification Page, if your Work List only contains your name (and you can see that your
statement status is "Certification Complete") then you are done. If there are any individuals in
either of these lists then you still have statements left to certify.

I certified this statement – why is it showing up in my work list again?

An effort statement may be reopened if a salary reallocation is applied after the statement was certified. If this occurs the statement will require recertification. You will receive an email if any statement that you have certified requires recertification and the statement will show up in your Statements Awaiting Certification tab as well as your Work List, along with any other outstanding statements that need to be certified.

Can I delegate responsibility for effort certification to another individual?

In limited instances, you may be authorized to assign certification responsibility to another
individual who has first-hand knowledge of the work performed and an understanding of the
scientific nature of the work. A certification designee is appointed to certify the effort related
to a specific project. A certification proxy is appointed to certify a PI's personal effort
statement. A formal request to establish either relationship must be completed and forwarded
to the Office of Financial Compliance for Research (FCR) for approval. The form and
instructions can be found on the FCR website at http://www.cfo.pitt.edu/fcr/ecrtForms.php.

What is my personal liability for mistakes made in completing my effort certification responsibilities?

In general, honest errors or mistakes are not likely to result in "personal liability," but intentionally false statements can be considered "false claims" against the federal government. If you are ever named individually in a legal proceeding arising from your University duties, you should consult this FAQ from the Office of General Counsel, which describes the applicable policies and procedures: http://www.ogc.pitt.edu/faq.html#1.