5.2 PI Effort

1. PI Effort

The decision by a sponsor to support or not to support a proposed project is based to a considerable extent upon its evaluation of the proposed PI's and any identified Co-PI's knowledge of the field of study and his/her capabilities to conduct the project in an efficient and productive manner. This is reflected in the criteria for the selection of projects for funding. The named PI should be continuously responsible for the conduct of the project and be closely involved with the effort.

No one has more than 100% FTE, and most Schools require that a specified percent be reserved for non-sponsored activity. Research-only faculty on 12-month appointments may typically charge up to 95% to sponsored projects year round.

Research-only faculty on 12-month appointments may typically charge up to 95% to sponsored projects year round and must reserve a minimum of 5% effort for non-sponsored activities.

Individual schools may have their own thresholds for how much FTE faculty members must reserve for non-sponsored activities.  

  • In the School of Medicine, all faculty (UTL, MCL and NTL) must reserve effort commensurate with their non-sponsored activities (e.g., clinical, administrative, teaching, proposal writing); 5% being the minimum level of effort which must be reserved for non-sponsored activities.

Faculty on 9 month appointments can charge up to 90% to sponsored projects during the summer.

PIs may submit proposals on the assumption that not all will be awarded, but at the time of award, a reasonable representation of time to be devoted to the project is necessary, whether that effort will be paid for by the sponsor or by Stanford, is necessary.

Proposal preparation costs may not be charged to sponsored projects unless the proposal is being prepared for submission to a current sponsor for non-competing extension or continuation of its ongoing project. In those circumstances, it is appropriate to charge those proposal development costs directly to current projects. Costs for development of proposals for submission to other sponsors, or for work that does not relate to ongoing projects, is not allocable to current projects and may not be charged to those projects.

Stanford University requires a commitment of effort on the part of the Principal Investigator during the period in which the work is being performed. This effort may be expended during the academic year, summer quarter only, or both.

Effort committed in a proposal, awarded by the sponsor, and expended on the project must be matched with an equivalent salary charge either directly to the sponsor, or to a cost sharing account, or to some combination of these.

The requirement of PI effort does not extend to:

  • equipment grants
  • seed grants for students/postdocs where the faculty mentor is named as PI, dissertation support, training grants, or other awards intended as "student augmentation"
  • limited-purpose awards characterized by Stanford as Other Sponsored Activities, including travel grants, conference support, etc. 

Short term (such as one or two months) fluctuations in effort need not be considered as long as the distribution of effort is reasonable over the quarter.

If you require sponsor approval for change of a PI or change of effort use the SeRA Central Office Request form.

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2. PI Absence or Reduction in Effort

The Uniform Guidance recognizes that a PI can be absent from campus but fully engaged in his or her research team by means of Skype, video, computer or other means of communication.

PIs are required to report deviations from budget or project scope or objective, and request prior approvals from Federal awarding agencies for budget and program plan revisions, in accordance with this section.

  1. Change in the scope or the objective of the project or program (even if there is no associated budget revision requiring prior written approval).
  2. Change in a key person specified in the application or the Federal award.
  3. The disengagement from the project for more than three months, or a 25 percent reduction in time devoted to the project, by the approved Project Director or Principal Investigator and key personnel.

Note that number 3 above does not use the term "absence" but "disengagement" from the project.  The distinction is a PI/PD or key personnel can be off campus and still engaged in the research, which would not require prior written approval.

The new term "disengagement" in the Uniform Guidance will become part of Stanford Policy prospectively and retrospectively.

Specific to the School of Medicine, evidence of engagement or disengagement from a sponsored project should be documented on Attachment A of the Sabbatical Leave form which must be reviewed and approved by the School Dean's office, and forwarded to the Institutional Official who will review, countersign and uploaded it into the appropriate SeRA record(s).


The PI is working in New Zealand on coral reef research as part of the statement of work.  She is absent from the Stanford Campus but still engaged in the research.

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3. Effort Setup and Monitoring

After you set up salaries in LD based on the awarded budget, manage the Plan and Confirm Process:

  • The PI confirms what you entered in LD through monthly review and quarterly certification. Quarterly certification of salary expenditures assures that salaries charged to the account are supported by a corresponding expenditure of effort during the time period being certified.
  • When necessary, make adjustments (Cost Transfers through LD).  It is important that retrospective changes in effort are made in accordance with Stanford policy RPH 3.1.4
  • Short term (such as one or two months) fluctuations between in effort need not be considered as long as the distribution of effort is reasonable over the quarter.
  • Prior approval for a reduction in effort greater than 25% for the PI or other key personnel is required.
  • The PI Certifies annually all effort for all staff

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4. Salary Caps

The NIH (National Institutes of Health) a PHS (Public Health Service) agency is our largest funding source at Stanford and it is one of the only federal agencies to impose a salary cap.  Other non federal agencies such as CIRM (California Institute for Regenerative Medicine) have salary caps. Salary caps not only pertain to faculty but all staff who exceed the funding limitation. Read your award terms and conditions.

The difference between the actual salary and the limited rate for the effort charged to the NIH project must be charged to an unrestricted PTA. The difference must be identified in LD (Labor Distribution Module in Oracle Financials) using the special Expenditure Type, “RBE UNALW SLRY OVER CAP 51190" (RBE =Regular Benefits Eligible).

The dollar amount of the PHS cap is indexed to selected Executive Pay Levels established by the Federal Government and may vary for each Government Fiscal Year in which funds are awarded. The cap amount is the maximum annual rate of salary that the PHS will allow to be paid to an individual from their funds.

FY19 NIH Announcement of Salary Limitation for Grants and Cooperative Agreements 

Please note that, effective in FYs 12, 13 and 14, the salary cap was moved to a LOWER government pay level.

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