University of Pittsburgh

Frequently Asked Questions - View All

The purpose of this information is to provide guidance to departments regarding the University's purchasing process. The questions were selected based on frequent inquiries we have received. As always, please feel free to contact us with any other questions or comments you may have through the inquiry page.


How do I buy goods for my department?

To purchase goods, departments must use a University approved purchase order generated from either the University's PantherBuy system PRISM. In order to minimize risks to your department, you should always purchase using the University's standard terms and conditions of purchase. The only purchases covered by these terms are those done through a University purchase order from PantherBuy, PRISM, or through a contract approved by the Purchasing Department and the Office of General Counsel. If you're buying without a purchase order or approved contract, you may severely limit your department's ability to file a claim against the supplier if the goods are defective, cause injuries, or cause property damage. Additionally, if the goods are damaged, late or incorrect, you may have little or no rights to have the goods returned or replaced.

FIRST: Check to see if the product is available from one of the University-wide contracted suppliers. If so, then you should purchase it on PantherBuy. This is the fastest, easiest way to buy quality products at discounted prices with many other pre-negotiated benefits and contractual protections.

SECOND: If a University-wide contract is not available, then the proper method for ordering goods is a University of Pittsburgh purchase order generated through PRISM. PRISM purchase orders carry the University's standard contractual terms and conditions.

THIRD: A Procurement Card (P-Card) may be used for emergency or non-routine purchases, however, unless you're buying from a University-wide contracted supplier, P-Card purchases do not provide you with the University's contractual protections.

NO OTHER METHOD IS PERMITTED: In order to protect the University, no other method such as a Disbursement Request, is permitted. Reimbursement for purchased goods via Travel and Business Expense Report is only permitted for emergency purchases, such as when equipment breaks while traveling on business.

How do I process a purchase order?

A University of Pittsburgh purchase order may be generated only through PantherBuy or PRISM. No other forms may be used, including forms internally-created by a department. Purchase orders or purchase order numbers are never to be given verbally to a supplier. They must be transmitted to a supplier in writing through PantherBuy or PRISM.

Use of the proper forms is important for several reasons.
First, these forms ensure the University is legally protected from defective equipment, poor supplier performance, late deliveries, and insurance related matters. Second, the forms ensure compliance with the University's Board of Trustees resolutions regarding authority to sign contracts. Third, unauthorized methods, especially verbal orders, lead to incorrect orders, late or no delivery, and invoice discrepancies.

How do I order material from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC)?

All orders to ATCC must be initiated by a University of Pittsburgh Principal Investigator. Please note that all ATCC orders are provided to the University subject to the terms of ATCC's Standard Material Transfer Agreement.

Departmental purchasers may issue purchase orders directly to ATCC for all bio-safety level one (BSL1) type biological materials valued at less than $5000. The Principal Investigators or End-user’s full name, title, and contact information must appear in Notes to Supplier for each purchase order in PRISM. The ‘Ship to’ person’s name should match PI/End-user person whose contact information is listed in  Notes to Supplier. BSL1 orders for less than $5000 received at Purchasing Services will be returned to the department for order placement.

For all BSL2 or higher ATCC items, a paper requisition along with a completed Verification of Compliance with Material Transfer Agreement form (MTA) must be submitted to EH&S for approval. The Principal Investigator (PI) must be registered with EH&S. EH&S will forward approved orders to Purchasing Services for order placement.

How do I order radioactive materials?

You may purchase radioactive materials using PantherBuy System. The PantherBuy provides electronic approval via e-mail notification to the Radiation Safety Office (RSO), eliminating the need to hand-carry requisitions across campus. Once the RSO approves an order, it is electronically submitted to the supplier.

The PantherBuy suppliers available for radioactive material are PerkinElmer, Amersham and MP Biomedical (ICN). They have supplied electronic versions of their catalogs to Purchasing including the negotiated University pricing. All radioactive products from these suppliers must be ordered through PantherBuy. Products from other suppliers will have to be requested on paper requisitions.

Though the online catalogs include non-radioactive products, do not

combine non-radioactive and radioactive items on the same requisition.


What are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania licensing requirements regarding ordering prescription (i.e., legend) drugs (including controlled substances) and devices for laboratory research?

In order to purchase  prescription (i.e., legend) drugs (including controlled substances) and devices for laboratory research, principal investigators who do not currently hold an active PA Department of Health (DOH) license to practice medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, nursing, or pharmacy (Practitioner License) must submit a written request to the DOH for a formal exemption from the requirement to register  under the Pennsylvania Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (Registration Exemption).


  • The written request for the Registration Exemption must be co-signed by the principal investigator’s responsible department chair or dean as validation of the principal investigator’s authority to possess and use the indicated prescription drugs and/or devices. A template can be found here.


  • The Registration Exemption issued by the DOH is specific to the principal investigator, laboratory location(s), research program(s), and prescription drug(s) and/or device(s) specified on the Exemption.  Your written request for a Registration Exemption should be inclusive of all laboratory locations and research programs overseen by  you and all prescription drugs and/or devices used in these laboratory locations/research programs.  If you make any changes to the laboratory locations where the prescription drugs or devices will be used, and/or any changes or additions to the prescription drugs or devices used you will need to submit a new written request to the DOH.


  • To apply for a Registration Exemption you should send your completed request letter to:


Theresa Ritchie, R.Ph. 

Drug Program Specialist

Drug, Device, Cosmetic/ Hearing Aid Programs

Pennsylvania Department of Health

132 Kline Plaza Suite A

Harrisburg, PA 17104


  • More information regarding the Pennsylvania Department of Health Drug, Device and Cosmetic Program can be found here.


Are there University Guidelines regarding controlled substances?

Yes, the University's Research Conduct and Compliance Office provides information regarding controlled substances.

How do I obtain a DEA license?

All principal investigators who desire to purchase, possess, and use controlled substances (Schedule I-V) for laboratory research must register, and maintain active registration, with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

  • Principal investigators who hold a DEA registration for the clinical use of controlled substances should incorporate, into this same registration, the controlled substances that will be used for laboratory research being conducted under their direction.

How do I order ethanol alcohol?

Federal distribution and use of tax-free alcohol regulations are maintained by Purchasing Services. Departments ordering ethanol alcohol must be approved by and on the University’s permit issued by the US Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Currently, ethanol alcohol is not ordered on PRISM.  Paper requisitions should be sent to 3328 Cathedral of Learning.  Phone orders are not accepted.  Any questions pertaining to use, distribution or additions/changes to the permit should be directed to Purchasing Services. Additional information regarding the Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquids is on the Environmental Health and Safety site.


What backup documentation must be included with my requisition?

The required supporting documentation for requisitions is stated on The Requisition Checklist. Providing all necessary backup documentation at the time of requisition submission will ensure your order is processed as quickly as possible. Requisitions lacking proper documentation will be returned to the requestor.


Can a disbursement request be used to pay for products from a supplier or vendor?

A disbursement request may not be used to purchase goods. Purchasing goods via a disbursement is a violation of University policy. Goods must be purchased via PantherBuy, PRISM or P-Card to protect your department and the University. The University is not protected if goods are acquired by disbursement because the University’s terms and conditions are not associated with this transaction. This means that you are at significant risk for the following:

    • Little or no protection against lost, stolen or damaged goods
    • No formal proof of order.
    • Default acceptance of the supplier’s terms. These terms are often unfavorable.
    • Minimal or no warranty protection.
    • Difficulty returning or replacing items.

My department does not have access to PantherBuy, PRISM, or a P-Card. Can I submit a paper requisition to Purchasing?

Because purchasing at the University is decentralized, any order under $5,000 must be processed at the department level using PantherBuy, PRISM or a P-Card. If the order value is over $5,000, an electronic requisition must be submitted through PantherBuy or PRISM. However, paper requisitions must be submitted for ATCC items (along with a completed Material Transfer Agreement), ethanol alcohol, and radioactive chemicals not available through PantherBuy. See How do I order material from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), How do I order ethanol alcohol, and How do I order radioactive materials.

Enrollment information for PantherBuy is available here. PRISM access information may be found here. Application forms for P-Card are found here and should be submitted to Payment Processing.


Who has authority to sign a contract?

Only personnel authorized by the University’s By-laws and the Board of Trustees can sign contracts on behalf of the University.  This includes University officers and those delegated in writing by a University officer.  If your department is being asked to sign a contract by a supplier, the contract should be sent to Purchasing Services for review and signature.  If required, Purchasing Services will coordinate a review with the Office of General Counsel.  The University has developed several standard contracts for services. For agreements valued at $5,000, you can contact the supplier and determine if it will accept one of these contracts with no changes.  If so, you should have the supplier  and a responsible department administrator signs the agreement. If the supplier wishes to propose changes, have it provide a written summary of the changes and forward to Purchases Services for review, approval and signature.


When is competitive bidding required?

Competitive bidding is required whenever a planned purchase of goods or services will be $5,000 or higher.  University policy 05-02-16 outlines the competitive bidding requirements.  It is important to note that competitive bidding is not required when using University contracted suppliers. If your department needs to do competitive bidding for an order of $5,000 or greater, you should contact Purchasing Services via a web inquiry and select “Other” as the inquiry type.  State that you are requesting assistance with a competitive bid. 


Competitive bidding is advantageous for several reasons.  It ensures that your pricing will be competitive within the marketplace. If a supplier is in a competitive situation, It is are more likely to provide its most aggressive pricing and other terms.  Bidding also ensures you are in compliance with University policy and other applicable federal and state regulations for grants and research.    


Are the companies listed in PRISM considered University contracted suppliers?

Not all suppliers listed in PRISM are considered University contracted suppliers. These suppliers were selected through a rigorous evaluation process and consultation with University product advisory groups.  These suppliers offer competitive pricing, high quality products, and outstanding customer service.  Non-contracted suppliers listed in PRISM are considered approved for use with the exception of goods/services offered by the University’s contracted suppliers.


How do I handle purchasing for building or room renovations?

All requests for renovations must be sent to Facilities Management.


How are shipping and other costs handled in PantherBuy

The prices found in PantherBuy may include shipping and/or handling costs.  In many cases, these costs do not apply as they have been eliminated during the establishment of the University-wide contract with the supplier.  Having all costs included in item prices eliminates NOIDS and makes the purchasing process more efficient.


If a user is already on PRISM, PantherBuy or uses a P-Card, will additional training be necessary? Are current users be required to attend the Purchasing Fundamentals class?

All new department buyers must take the Purchasing Fundamentals training. While experienced departmental buyers are not required to attend Purchasing Fundamentals, we strongly recommend the training for those who have not already attended.  Departmental buyers who do not have access to PRISM or PantherBuy, but only use a P-Card are not required to attend Purchasing Fundamentals training since P-Card specific training is mandatory prior to obtaining a card.

Will advertisements that were previously paid on disbursement be required to have a PO number?

For small dollar, routine, less complex, advertisements such as job postings in newspapers, professional magazines and other online posting services that will not accept the University’s professional services agreement, departmental buyers should obtain a quote and place a PRISM purchase order.

For advertisements more complex than a simple job posting and less than $5,000, each departmental buyer should review the facts and circumstances and consider whether a professional services agreement is required, or whether it can simply be handled through a purchase order in PRISM.

For larger dollar, more complex advertising, especially when the scope of work involves significant design, a contracted service agreement should be executed.  Therefore, any advertising greater than $5,000 should come through Purchasing.


Can a department issue a PO for less than $5,000 for a software license agreement?

No.  Since nearly all software providers will not agree to the University’s standard terms and conditions, and there are possible intellectual property and “deemed export” liabilities that may far exceed the value of the license, ALL software license agreements should be executed by Purchasing with additional reviews by both CSSD and the Office of General Counsel.

Are P-Cards being eliminated?

No, P-Cards are not being eliminated.


Can P-Cards be used for non-contracted suppliers?

P-Card holders are required to purchase from University contracted suppliers (see Policy 05-02-15) if they sell the necessary products.  If the contracted supplier is available on PantherBuy, then PantherBuy must be used.  If a contracted supplier is not available, then the preferred method of purchase from non-contracted suppliers is through a PRISM PO. Emergency purchases may be made from non-contracted suppliers on the P-Card.


What should departmental buyers do when University-issued purchase orders sit in suppliers’ fax machines for long periods prior to being filled thus forcing departmental buyers to place verbal orders?

Departments should notify Purchasing, through its website inquiry and Purchasing will contact the supplier to take corrective action to ensure that supplier delays do not impact critical departmental operations.


Can I place orders with suppliers using their web/internet based order processing tools rather than using University systems? 

No. It is against University Policy to enter into purchase agreements or place orders using any other method except PRISM, PantherBuy, or the P-Card.  Any other system may expose the University to terms and conditions that are not in agreement with our own.  Please contact Purchasing if you feel there is a unique need.


Can we purchase goods on Ebay or Amazon?

 Yes, but it is not recommended.  Presently, there is no policy that prohibits purchases from EBay or Amazon that are legitimate, prudent, and otherwise not in violation of any existing University purchasing, P-Card, or other policy.  Generally, while purchases of under $5,000 do not need competitive bidding, it is in a department's best interest to conduct due diligence in all cases to ensure that the lowest total cost of ownership is achieved.  This would include salary dollars spent shopping for items; the risks of purchasing from unknown suppliers;, including buying "gray market" products that seem new, but are actually being repurchased and do not have warranties; receiving damaged goods and the difficulty in getting replacements or refunds.  Also, Purchasing may not be able to provide any assistance if a problem develops with a non-contracted supplier.  The ultimate costs can far outweigh any immediate perceived savings. 

From a departmental policy standpoint, Purchasing strongly recommends that departments require that their buyers comply with Policy 05-02-15 to use contracted suppliers and that PantherBuy be used if the product is available there.


Should a DBE be used even if there is a contracted supplier?

No.  The first choice in supplier selection is to use a contracted supplier.  The process for determining contracted suppliers considers price, quality, delivery, service and business management in an effort to obtain the best overall value for the University.  At the outset of this process every effort is made to include qualified DBE’s for consideration.  If it is discovered that the DBE represents the best overall value to the University during this process then it is awarded the contracted supplier status.  You can find these DBE suppliers on the Purchasing website with a designation of DBE in the Category column.  However, if a DBE is not listed as a contracted supplier then use those suppliers that are contracted suppliers as your first supplier selection criteria.

If you are a researcher attempting to fulfill the requirements of a subcontracting plan, consider using one of the DBE non-contracted suppliers.


When do I use a Supplier Verification Form?

Use a Supplier Verification Form to provide Purchasing Services and Payment Processing with the required information to establish a new supplier or change an existing supplier in PRISM.


How do I add or reactivate a supplier in PRISM?

The supplier should complete Section II of the Supplier Verification Form and return it along with the appropriate IRS document. (Please note that faxed W-8 forms are acceptable to establish foreign suppliers, however, a signed original must follow and be submitted to Purchasing Services prior to the supplier receiving payment.) The University department should complete Section III of the Supplier Verification Form and submit the completed form with the IRS document to Purchasing Services.


How do I make changes to a supplier in PRISM?

To add an additional site to an existing supplier, all sections of the Supplier Verification Form must be filled out and an appropriate IRS document submitted. For changes in a supplier’s name, address, or tax identification number, an appropriate IRS document must be submitted along with a letter from the supplier stating the change(s) on company letterhead.


How do I update or change a supplier's fax number?

To change a supplier’s fax number please use the on-line Fax Number Update form


How do I submit a Supplier Verification Form to Purchasing Services? 

Fax the completed Supplier Verification Form and appropriate IRS document to Purchasing Services at 412-624-9339.


How long does it take to activate a Supplier Verification Form in PRISM?

Processing time for a Supplier Verification Form is normally 24-48 hours.  However, if forms are incomplete or illegible processing time may take longer.


How do I order from the Central Blood Bank?

To assist in the ordering of blood and blood products, Purchasing Services has negotiated a University contract with the Central Blood Bank. A procedure has been established to streamline the ordering process. 





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Updated: 11/22/2010


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