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SPAR Frequently asked Questions

General SPAR Application FAQs  |  Labor Distribution and Cost Sharing Screen FAQs  |  Cost Sharing FAQs  |  Salary Reallocations Great than 90 Days FAQs  |  Security FAQs  |  Certification FAQs



Question 1: What are the system requirements to run the SPAR application on my computer?

You must have browser Internet Explorer version 9 or higher. Firefox may work but is not certified by the application. Also, JAVA version is required.

Question 2: Can the screens be printed?

The screens can be printed and saved or exported to Excel for manipulation and analysis.  SPAR report PLDR816A provides a pdf version of the SPAR form(s) and PLDR816B provides Excel output of SPAR information.  Specific instructions are included in the instruction guides available on the Office of Financial Compliance for Research (FCR) website (   

Question 3: How and when is a SPAR number assigned?

A six-digit SPAR number is system assigned through the SPAR build process automatically at the beginning of each SPAR period for all active, salaried employees.  SPAR numbers are also assigned to new employee SPARs through the new hire/appointment process.

Question 4: How are SPARs populated for the new SPAR period?

The SPAR create process is automatically performed as part of the month-end closing processes in the last month of a SPAR period. This process generates a SPAR for the new SPAR period for each active salaried employee.

  • For 12-month employees, the new SPAR will be populated with those lines active (non-zero) at the end of the previous SPAR period.
  • Less-than-annual employees' September SPAR forms are populated with lines active (non-zero) at the end of the prior contract period.
  • Summer SPARs are pre-populated in a variety of ways, depending on the pay year type:
    • 12/12 Pay Year Type
      Each active regular and joint (cost share) line at April 30 will be brought forward creating two lines on the May-August SPAR, one for May-June and a second for July-August. Active lines are those in which either the Actual, Distributed or Cost Share percentages thereon are greater than zero.
    • 10/10 Pay Year Type Each active regular and joint line at April 30 will be brought forward creating one line for May-June. SPAR distribution for employees with less than 12-month contracts is defaulted 100% to the department account for months outside the contract period. Since June 30 marks the end of this contract period, one regular line will be created for the period of July-August and will reflect the department account number. No joint lines will be created for the July-August period.
    • 9/9 Pay Year Type
      Each active regular and joint line at April 30 will be brought forward creating one line for the month of May. SPAR distribution for employees with less than 12-month contracts is defaulted 100% to the department account for months outside the contract period. Since May 31 marks the end of this contract period, one regular line will be created for the month of June (old fiscal year) and another for the period of July-August (new fiscal year) reflecting the department account number. No joint lines will be created for the June or July-August periods.
    • 8/8 Pay Year Type
      SPAR distribution for employees with less than 12-month contracts is defaulted 100% to the department account for months outside the contract period. Since this contract period ends on April 30, no distribution is carried forward from the January-April SPAR. The May-August SPAR will have only two lines, one for May-June and one for July-August, each defaulted 100% to the department account.
    • 4/4 Pay Year Type
      SPAR distribution for employees with less than 12-month contracts is defaulted 100% to the department account for months outside the contract period. No lines from a previous SPAR period are carried forward for this Pay Year Type. The May-August SPAR will have only two lines, one for May-June and one for July-August, each defaulted 100% to the department account.
    • Note: All initial May-August SPARs have separate lines for May-June and July-August. Users should continue to restrict begin and end dates on each line to a single fiscal year. This will provide a clean year end cut off and eliminate subsequent modifications that cross fiscal years.

A future SPAR can be manually created using the Create Next Cert Period functionality on the SPAR screen. This new SPAR is an independent record. Any updates made to earlier SPAR periods for this employee must be manually posted to future SPAR periods. The SPAR application does not roll these updates forward. The automatic SPAR build process will not create a SPAR for the new period for any employee for which a SPAR already exists.

Question 5: Will the SPAR data available back to July 2002 be in the same format as the data entered in FY13?  You mentioned that there were some coding differences between the current paper process and the on-line system.

The former paper SPAR system did not maintain Actual effort percentages.  A conversion program was run to populate the Actual% fields for the latest SPAR suffix for each SPAR period beginning July 1, 2002 through June, 2012.  The calculated actual effort from this period will appear on the Labor Distribution Screen in the Actual% column and the SPAR Modification History screen.    Paper SPAR forms did not include the Admin Codes or Cost Share Codes.  All Cost Share Codes will appear as ‘N’ for periods prior to July 1, 2012.

Question 6: When an individual transfers within the University, will a new SPAR # be assigned?

No, a new SPAR number is only assigned at the beginning of each SPAR period or at time of hire.  Please refer to Question 7 below for the process to transfer a SPAR.

Question 7: Who will be responsible for populating the SPAR if an employee transfers to a new department?

The SPAR is accessible by the home department of record on the employee’s  Employee Record (ER).  The ER form must be processed by the former department to transfer the employee to the new department.  To ensure appropriate distribution to each department, it is advisable for the former department to coordinate any partial month calculation and new account numbers with the new department before processing the ER change.  In this manner, the former home department will assume responsibility to end charges to their department and not rely on the new department to do so.

Question 8: Is there a specific time restriction between SPAR modifications?

There is no "waiting" period between SPAR modifications. You will be able to track your SPAR modification sessions saved within the status box of the SPAR Modification History Screen.

Question 9: Since the third SPAR period covers May 1st through August 31st, will we now be permitted to modify SPAR distribution across fiscal year end for 02 accounts?

The fiscal year end is June 30th and all fiscal year end accounting rules still apply. While you will be able to modify the May and June activity on a SPAR after June 30, any credit to an entity 02 or 03 account will be defaulted to a general University account (02.53200). For modifications to May and June distributions after June 30 that result in debits to an entity 02 or 03 account, the resulting charges will appear on the new year 02 or 03 account.

Question 10: Now that we are processing the SPARs on-line, what will the approval process require?

Approval is not required beyond the preparer of the modification. RCs and Departments have full discretion in establishing and maintaining SPAR access within their areas to accommodate their specific needs. It is assumed that personnel assigned to SPAR administrator or modifier roles will process modifications as an outcome to routine meetings with PIs to identify correct effort distribution for the PI and individuals working on his/her projects. PIs will receive confirmation emails for any changes affecting effort distribution to their sponsored projects. University guidelines require that level reports be monitored monthly to detect erroneous distributions/charges in a timely manner.

Question 11: It was mentioned that there will be no approval process for the online SPARs. Taking this into consideration, should grant administrators be Modifiers. Currently, they make the changes on the paper SPARs and submit them for review as to their accuracy. It is not uncommon that corrections need to be made.

Both SPAR Administrator and SPAR Modifier roles have the ability to modify SPAR distribution on-line. Modifications processed result in immediate updates to affected general ledger accounts. Timely review of monthly level reports should detect errors in effort distribution. Any necessary modifications must be made in accordance with the 90-day requirements of the University's Effort Reporting/Certification policy.

Question 12: Since a new SPAR suffix is created each time you save, is there a reason to limit saving your work as you make individual account modifications?

There are situations to consider when deciding the frequency of saving SPAR modifications. The Refresh/New Percent button may be used frequently with no impact on distribution or notifications. The Save/Modify button should be used more judiciously for the following reasons:

  • The more times you save the more entries you will have in the status box of the SPAR Modification History Screen, making it cumbersome to navigate this page.
  • Once saved, only the dates and actual percentage fields may be modified in subsequent modifications. If you've entered an incorrect account number or cost share code, the incorrect line must be zeroed out and a new line entered with the appropriate account number.
  • Each time a SPAR modification is saved, the PI(s) of the accounts (master or subaccount) that are affected will receive an email notifying them of the modification. Multiple saves during a session will result in multiple emails to the PI if his/her projects are repeatedly modified.
  • The system limits the suffix number to .99.

However, the Refresh/New Pct button only provides monthly effort totals for balancing to 100%. The Save function performs a greater series of edit checks (date consistencies within cost share relationships, clerical/administrative code requirements, satisfaction of MCS requirements, etc.) and may prove helpful to perform periodically when making multiple changes to a complex SPAR.

Question 13: Who receives an email from the system when a SPAR is modified?

The Principal Investigator (PI) of record in RPA for the account, not the award, will receive a system-generated email each time a SPAR modification is made involving one of his/her sponsored project accounts.

Question 14: Can you provide an example of what the email being sent to the faculty after SPAR changes are entered into PRISM looks like?

Subject in the email: >> SPAR Modification Email Notification
Message is displayed as shown below:
>>SPAR # 492360, Employee Name: Jane Doe, for period SEP-12 - DEC-12 was modified by [user who made the change] on 11-SEP-2012 09:02:31 AM.
>>If you have any questions or concerns about these effort modifications to your sponsored project, please contact [user who made the change].

Question 15: What should we do if we have planned effort for a PI on an award that is imminent but has not been activated, meaning that we do not have an account number yet?

The manner in which this situation is handled has not changed from the paper SPAR process to the on-line SPAR application. The SPAR cannot be changed until you have an account number for the new award. Note that the system does not track planned effort. The system is integrated with Oracle G/L, so you can process the modification immediately upon activation of the account. It is strongly encouraged that you apply for an Early Account Request with the Office of Research when possible.

An exception to this would be in situations where the anticipated new account number has not been issued prior to the end of the period of performance. An Effort Coordinator should put the ecrt statement on hold to prevent certification if they feel an account number is imminent. As the certification deadline approaches:

  • If the account number has been received, a SPAR Administrator can process the SPAR modification which will feed to ecrt overnight. The following day the ecrt statement should have the hold removed and notice sent to the PI to alert them that the statement is available and must be certified by the deadline.
  • If the account number has not been received, the SPAR should be modified to move the effort to an entity 04 account for certification. The SPAR modification will feed ecrt overnight. The following day the ecrt statement should have the hold removed and notice sent to the PI to alert them that the statement is available and must be certified by the deadline. Remind the PI that effort associated to the work performed for which no Notice of Award (NOA) has been received has been recorded in the 04 account since it is inappropriate to place this effort on another sponsored project. When the NOA is received and an account number is established, a 90-day exception request will be necessary to modify the SPAR after the close of the certification period. Documentation such as the Request for Early Account Number, the NOA, evidence that this individual did work on this project during the period, as well as any other supporting documentation must be included with the 90-day exception request form.

Administrators need to be alert to the fact that statements can only be recertified once and both certifications should take place within the certification period. They will need to coordinate their modifications and a recertification by the PI to ensure that all changes are final before the recertification takes place.

Question 16: How quickly can a new account number be used?

The web-based SPAR application is integrated with Oracle general ledger. As soon as an account number is activated, it is available for use.

Question 17: Suppose the PI is approved for 10% effort but during a few months he works slightly more or slightly less, does the SPAR system know the approved committed percent of effort for each individual on each account?

The SPAR application does not have committed effort information available for reference. The monitoring of allowable effort variations is the responsibility of the department in consultation with the sponsor guidelines.

Question 18: Will foreign student workers who don't require certification also have an online SPAR?

If they are paid by a salary and not an hourly rate, they will continue to have a SPAR. The purpose of the online system for SPARs is to distribute salary to the correct accounts based on employee activity. This system is separate from the online certification system which will roll out in January 2013.

Question 19: I did not understand the system availability for the month-end closing processes?

SPAR Administrators have until 5:00 p.m. on the 2nd working day of each month to make modifications affecting the previous month's Level reports. However, access to the SPAR will end for Modifiers on the last day of the month.

Access to modify SPARs will resume at 6:00 a.m. on the 5th working day of each month.

Regarding accessibility to prior period SPARs, SPAR Administrators may modify the prior SPAR period through the last day of the third month following the SPAR period end date. However, any modification following the end of the certification window should be done only with approval by Central Administration.

Question 20: How long can the system be idle before it times out?

The system will time out after 30 minutes of inactivity. You will need to log back in and the session should be resumed where you left off. We recommend verifying the data when your session resumes in the event that a system update nullified your unsaved changes.

Question 21: Will resources be available to me if I have difficulty successfully modifying the SPARs for which I am responsible?

Instructional examples for each SPAR screen will be available on the Office of Financial Compliance for Research website ( Also available are examples of various cost sharing scenarios ( that provide step-by-step instruction for recording each type of cost sharing. If additional assistance is needed, please contact



Question 1: Can I search using the full-name field? Is it case-sensitive?

Yes, the full-name field is a query field and can be used to search for employee SPARs. This field is not case-sensitive. Queries should be entered in the following format, LAST NAME, FIRST NAME.

Question 2: Since we no longer receive paper copies of SPAR form, how can we see a SPAR from prior periods?

With the conversion to the on-line SPAR application, all SPAR information will be available for you to view on-line back to July, 2002. To access SPARs from previous SPAR periods on the screen, place the cursor in the Start Period or End Period fields in the SPAR Info section of the Labor Distribution and Cost Sharing Percentage screen and use your arrow up or down keys on your keyboard to move between SPAR periods.

Question 3: Must start and end dates be the first and last days of the month (respectively)?

Yes, start date must be the first day of any month and end date must be the last day of any month within the SPAR period. If effort occurs for only a portion of the month, like in the situation where an employee transfers to another department, the Actual percentage of effort must be adjusted to reflect any partial month performance.

Question 4: Can you use more than one Clerical/Administrative code?

No only one code may be entered for each unique sponsored project account. Select the code most closely related to the responsibilities of the individual for that specific sponsored project.

Question 5: Where can I find the full definitions for the "Clerical/Administrative codes?"

These can be found in Exhibit C of OMB Circular A-21.

Question 6: Why do the data entry boxes sometimes overlap the field labels making the labels hard to read?

This happens only when the SPAR form is opened for the first time in a PRISM session. If you close the form and re-open it, the labels are aligned properly. This is a system issue that is being reviewed.

Question 7: Why does the yellow pop-up box describing the various segments of the account number appear multiple times?

This informational box usually appears if the cursor passes through an account number field. Pressing the "Tab" key will eliminate this box from view.


COST SHARING FAQs - Back to top

Question 1: How are the Cap Eligible and Cap Account boxes populated?

Both boxes are system populated. The SPAR form is a PRISM application and, therefore, integrated with all other PRISM applications like Payroll, Human Resources, Research and Proposal Accounting (RPA) and the General Ledger. As you query an employee's SPAR:

  • Institutional Base Salary (IBS) as recorded in the HR/Payroll applications is compared to the current DHHS salary cap restriction. If the IBS is over the DHHS salary cap, the Cap Eligible box is checked for this employee.
  • For employees identified as Cap Eligible, the system queries Sponsor and Prime Sponsor names in the RPA application for all sponsored project accounts. Those accounts with sponsors within the DHHS agencies are identified by the application by a check in the Cap Acct box. If the employee is not identified as Cap Eligible, no Cap Acct validation is performed.

Question 2: Will the system calculate both the $199,700 and $179,700 salary cap limits?

The system will only calculate cost sharing at the current $179,700 salary cap since most accounts have been issued at this limit. For those accounts still eligible for the $199,700 cap, a system override intervention will be required in coordination with Central Administration, in order to enter exceptions. Once a SPAR has been overridden, all salary cap calculations are disabled and all cost sharing percentages on old or new cap restrictions must be manually calculated. The Office of Financial Compliance for Research website has an Excel template available to assist you in the manual calculation of the mandatory cost share (MCS) percentage ( Please submit requests for override assistance to

Question 3: In past history, NIH has changed the NIH salary cap annually (typically in January). Will the online system automatically take into account any changes to the NIH cap or will the SPAR modifier have to manually go into the SPAR to make changes and/or calculate MCS on the SPAR lines.

That depends on how the NIH cap is changed. Until December, 2011, the change in the salary cap limit was an increase and applied to all awards at the date of change. If this type of change occurs in the future, the SPAR application will be updated for the latest cap on the effective date and all necessary MCS calculations will be performed automatically.

In December, 2011, the cap was lowered and applied only to awards issued on or after December 23, 2011. For the first time we were required to monitor two salary caps simultaneously based on award issue date. In its current state, the SPAR application can only accommodate one salary cap, which is why any awards still subject to the $199,700 limit require manual override and calculation.

So, the ability of the SPAR application to automatically calculate MCS based on federal changes to the NIH salary cap depends on the requirements of any new federal mandate and the amount of lead time institutions receive to develop systems to accommodate the changes. If the salary cap amount is changed as of a specific date for all awards, the SPAR application will accommodate this change and make all necessary MCS calculations.

Question 4: Career Development awards (K awards) also have a mandatory salary cap requirement. Will this be system calculated?

No.  The system will only be calculating mandatory cost sharing for accounts subject to the current DHHS salary cap.   The user will be required to manually calculate the K-Award cap based on the salary limitations provided at time of award.  The Office of Financial Compliance for Research website has an Excel template available to assist you in the manual calculation of cost sharing requirements (

Question 5: What happens when a cap-eligible faculty member receives a raise?

If the faculty member was already over the NIH cap, you will need to open the SPAR, zero out any Cap Acct lines, re-enter the Actual %'s and then hit Refresh Shared Pct. This will update the MCS% for all existing lines. If the raise takes the faculty member's salary over the cap for the first time, you will need to follow the steps noted above to zero out and re-enter Actual effort and then establish all of the joint lines for MCS. In either case, if no action is taken on the employee's SPAR during the month of the increase, this employee will be included on the monthly salary cap exception report notifying the department and Central Administration that action is required.

Question 6: If a cap-eligible person is in a no-cost extension, is the cost sharing coded as MCS, Other, or both?

The coding would be the same as previously coded if funding is still available. The no-cost extension does not change the salary cap requirement. However, if there is continued effort but no more funding, the effort would be coded as 'O' for Other, Voluntary Uncommitted cost sharing.

Question 7: On which lines do the cost-share codes have to match?

The system requires cost share code matches as follows:
  • Cost share codes M and V: The cost-share recipient line does not have to match. The regular sponsored project account line and the joint account line codes must match.
  • Cost share codes K and O: The cost-share recipient line, the regular sponsored project account line and the joint account line codes must match.

Question 8: What is the difference between Voluntary Cost-Sharing and Other Cost-Sharing?

Voluntary, committed cost sharing is effort provided in the award document with insufficient salary support. This can represent a shortfall between committed levels of effort and salary support, or an effort commitment with no corresponding salary support.

Other cost sharing includes several categories voluntary, uncommitted which may occur in the case of a no-cost extension when effort continues but no more salary support is available, or subsumed effort on a K-Award, etc.

Question 9: Can mandatory and voluntary cost sharing required for a specific research award be covered by more than one cost-share recipient line?

Mandatory cost-sharing must reflect a 1:1 relationship where one cost-share recipient line must cover all of the mandatory cost sharing requirement. Voluntary cost-sharing can be a 1:many relationship where it can be linked to multiple cost-share recipient lines.



Question 1: SPAR changes can be made within 90-days. When does the "clock" for the 90-day window start?

Federal regulations allow corrections of errors to be made up to 90 days from the date of discovery. Because the PI is responsible to certify and because the PI doesn't review effort distributions until effort statements are available for certification, we have taken the position that through the 45-day PI certification window, SPAR modifications may be made back to the first day of the period of performance to correct effort distributions without a 90-day request. For example, the September-December period of performance ends December 31. The PI certification window runs from January 22nd through March 7th. During the entire period of performance and through the end of the PI certification window, SPAR modifications will be allowable to any month of the period of performance. So, until March 7th, modifications may be made back as far as September without a 90-day request.

Question 2: Will the SPAR system accept SPAR modifications older than 90 days or will they be rejected at entry?

SPAR Administrator access to any SPAR period ends on the last day of the third month following the SPAR period end date. So, for the September December, 2013 period of performance, an Administrator would have access to modify that SPAR period until March 31, 2014. However, it is expected that all modifications for the September December period of performance be completed by March 7, 2014, the certification due date. For demonstrated instances of extenuating circumstances, presented to Financial Compliance for Research before the March 7th certification due date, additional time may be allowed to make a SPAR modification and certification within the 90-day period following the end of the period of performance.

Question 3: What is the process for getting approval for SPAR modifications beyond the 90-day window?

The Request for SPAR Reallocation Greater than 90 Days Form must be completed and approved for modifications outside the 90-day window as defined in the University's Effort Reporting/Certification policy ( The request form is available on the Office of Financial Compliance for Research website ( The completed request form must include a printed copy of the SPAR with the changes being requested marked on the SPAR and provide supporting documentation to prove that this situation meets one of the following approved exceptions:

  1. Removal from a sponsored project of an inappropriate or expressly unallowable charge, regardless of lapsed time.
  2. Removal of charges disallowed by audit or sponsor.
  3. Reallocation affects only some combination of master and sub-accounts within the same award with all accounts involved open and active.
  4. Early account number request was not approved. Evidence is required that early account request had been submitted.
  5. Adjustments necessary on training awards to align payments to trainees with federally mandated salary rates. Reconciliation to official award termination notice required.
  6. Reallocation affects only some combination of non-research accounts and does not cross fiscal years if entity 02 (operating).

If the transfer does not meet one of these exceptions, the modification will not be approved by Central Administration.

If the modification includes adding effort to a sponsored project, proof that the employee worked on that specific project during that time period is required.

Completed 90-day request forms with a full explanation of the situation along with the marked up copy of the SPAR and all supporting documentation including PI and Chair signatures must be forwarded to for consideration. Incomplete submissions will not be considered. If approved, Central Administration will update the SPAR as requested.


SECURITY FAQs - Back to top

Question 1: Back-up is needed for a department when the sole SPAR administrator is out. How can that be achieved?

Each department should identify a backup administrator. If this is not possible, the department should contact their RC to identify an appropriate backup process.

Question 2: Can you have more than one individual assigned the same role (i.e., Administrator, Modifier, or Viewer) per department?

You can have more than one individual per role. It is encouraged that you have at least two individuals at the Administrator level to ensure continuity of access in the event of employee absence.

Question 3: Why does the RC security screen include many departments that have no employees appointed in them when the new system is using appointment department and not GL department? We have many GL departments that will not need to have security set up and that might look odd if we have a group of unprocessed departments. I thought this would mirror how we set up security for the annual salary increases.

The security for the SPAR application resembles the security of the budget application rather than the salary increases (which is based on a static list as of July 1st). Even though the security in the SPAR application is based on people rather than accounts, it was designed in this manner to allow for security to be established automatically as employees are assigned to an organization/department. Leaving the departments with no employee hires blank will not affect the system.

Question 4: I am concerned about confidentiality of sensitive payroll information within my department. Is there any way to grant access to the SPAR modification screen without providing access to the salary dollar information?

Yes, the role of Modifier at the Department and Subset levels prevents access to the Person and Account Inquiry screens that reflect salary dollar information. The Department and Subset Modifier will be able to process SPAR changes within the current SPAR period and access the SPAR Modification History query. The Person and Account inquiry options will appear on the Modifier's responsibility tree at the Oracle Applications Home Page and the PLD SPAR Navigator Page. They will be able to open the inquiry and attempt a search but no results will be provided. A system message will indicate that they do not have access to the specified individual.

Question 5: Do you need to be a Pitt employee to have access to the system?

No, non-Pitt personnel with a valid business reason to have access to the SPAR system can gain access. First, they need to complete a request for PRISM access form (available on the FIS website) to be submitted through appropriate departmental processes. Once the PRISM access is granted, they can request SPAR access.

Question 6: Are individuals that are provided access required to complete a training session?

SPAR system users are required to attend the Introduction to SPAR workshop offered by Financial Compliance for Research. Additionally, if a department administrator will be dealing with sponsored awards in their department, the Basics of Effort Reporting and Advanced SPAR & Cost Sharing workshops are also required. Registration for all workshops is available on the "Workshop Registration" page of this website. In addition, the Basic SPAR 101 webinar and the SPAR Cost Share 101 webinar have been recorded and are available on the Office of Financial Compliance for Research website (

Question 7: Will individuals provided department level access, rather than subset access, be able to see the Pitt base salaries of all department employees?

Access to salary information is determined by one's role in the SPAR application. The Administrator and Viewer roles across all levels (RC, Department, Subset) and the RC Modifier role have access to the Inquiry screens which allow access to all salaries. The Modifier role at the Department and Subset levels allows access to the distribution information only through the Labor Distribution and Cost Sharing screen and the SPAR Modification History inquiry, no salary information appears on these screens.

Question 8: Will a Modifier automatically have access to the Operating account in the department?

Security is granted by employee home department assignment. If all employees are maintained under one home department, Modifiers will have access to all employee SPAR forms. The Modifier will not, however, be able to perform Account Inquiry, Account Inquiry-No Subcode, or Person Inquiry functions because the Modifier role at the Department and Subset levels has been restricted from these queries containing salary information.

Question 9: Can Modifier or Viewer roles assign security and do these roles have access to salary information?

At the RC level, both Modifiers and Viewers may grant access to all roles at the Department or Subset levels. RC Modifiers also have access to all salary dollar inquiries within their area of access. Department level Modifiers and Viewers do not have the ability to grant access, nor do they have access to salary dollar inquiries.

Question 10: Why did I get this error when assigning security?

security error

This message appears when the user being added does not have a PRISM account. PRISM access must be requested and granted prior to giving any user access to the web-based SPAR application. See question 6 above.

Question 11: We often hire employees to work in another area. We would like to give the "other area" the ability to modify these SPARs. If we hire a new person in our department that will work outside our department, how should security be established?

If you have employees hired by your department but working on the other area's sponsored projects you may provide subset access to the individual employee. Specifically, within the SPAR Security screen, you will establish a subset role naming an employee from the other area as either an Administrator, Modifier, or Viewer with access to a listing of employees hired by your department. As the home department of an employee, you have the right to designate what type of access the subset individual will have. However, if there is a bona fide business reason for the outside individual to have access to your employee(s), you cannot deny at least Subset Viewer access. As new employees are hired for work in the outside area, you would only need to add the new hire to the subset listing. Please see the SPAR Security Instruction Guides on the Financial Compliance for Research website for step-by-step instructions (

Question 12: If someone outside of my department is paid from a grant account housed within my department, will I be able to access their SPAR information in the Person Inquiry screen?

Not automatically. You can only access information for employees hired within your department unless you've been provided with subset access by the employee's hiring department. The ability to view the Person Inquiry screen would require Subset Administrator access to that employee.

Question 13: How do I get permission to access employee SPAR information in a department outside of mine?

If you have a legitimate business reason (i.e., providing a portion of an employee's salary) to access SPAR information for employees outside your area of access, you must initiate a written request to the other department specifying the employees for which you are requesting access. Subset level access must be granted at least at the Viewer role, but may be granted at the Administrator or Modifier roles at the granting department's discretion.

Question 14: If I have a person within my department partially paid from an account that is not in my department, and I don't have access to that account electronically, how do I enter the SPAR distribution? For example, one faculty member is paid 10% from an account in a different school / department.

Security will not prevent you from entering any account number on the SPAR of an employee in your area. However, it is advisable that you follow one of the options below to facilitate this distribution:

  • Coordinate the distribution and account information with the other department offline and enter the distribution yourself, or
  • Provide subset access to this faculty member to the outside department so they can modify the distribution. You should be aware that providing subset access to an employee in your department to an outside department, will allow modification to all lines on that SPAR, not only the external account lines.

Question 15: What do I need to do to grant access?

The level and role of access to grant is at the discretion of each RC/Department. Each area has the ability to enter security for their own area of responsibility. It is also the responsibility of each RC/Department to retain appropriately signed access requests for audit purposes. The forms can be found at the Financial Compliance for Research website: ( Directions for entering SPAR Security can be found on the website at



Question 1: PIs in my department are asking questions about effort certification for which I am not sure of the answers. How can I find answers to their questions?

The Financial Compliance for Research website includes a variety of ecrt training and reference materials that should answer most of these types of questions ( Additionally, the Office of Financial Compliance for Research offers customized effort reporting sessions for faculty groups focused on their specific concerns. If your area is interested in having an effort reporting session targeted to your faculty and administrators, please submit an inquiry to

Question 2: Can "averaging" be done only for the four-month period of performance, or can it spread over the whole year? For example: Committed Effort = 10% for 12 months can the distribution be charged as 12% for 10 months? For certain months, the PI's effort exceeds 100% for all his grants and teaching duties but in other months his effort has gaps due to grants ending.

The averaging you are referring to is that done on the 4-month certification statement. This average is based on the faculty member's effort distribution for the 4-month period of performance, so whatever level of actual effort was entered on his/her SPAR becomes the input to the certification average. For certification purposes, the average will only be for 4 months.

Your question is related not to the certification but to effort reflected on the SPAR form itself. Your comment that the PI's effort sometimes exceeds 100% for all his grants and teaching duties indicates to me that you are basing effort on budgets. Effort is to be a reflection of the employee's activities, and, therefore, can never exceed 100%. Circular A-21, Article J, 10, b (1)(c) provides that "it is recognized that, in an academic setting, teaching, research, service, and administration are often inextricably intermingled. A precise assessment of factors that contribute to costs is not always feasible, nor is it expected. Reliance, therefore, is places on estimates in which a degree of tolerance is appropriate."

Article J, 10, b (2)(e) provides, "When such estimates are used, significant changes in the corresponding work activity must be identified and entered into the payroll distributions system. Short term (such as one or two months) fluctuation between workload categories need not be considered as long as the distribution of salaries and wages is reasonable over the longer term, such as an academic period."

Circular A-21 provides other guidance for effort distribution. I would recommend that you review all of section J, 10 covering compensation charged to sponsored projects for further guidance. In addition, the University's Effort Reporting Policy provides guidance in determining actual effort distributions. A link to the policy is on the Office of Financial Compliance for Research website (