Effort Overview

Background information to explain effort, ECRT, effort concepts, and effort reporting at UW-Madison.

The Big Picture

Effort reporting is required by our external sponsors.  When we propose a project with salary payments for PI, key and support personnel, we promise the sponsor that we will put that amount of effort into the project.  This relationship, a commitment, is formalized at time of award, and we now owe the sponsor effort on the project equivalent to what has been detailed in the award.  Sometimes this commitment is exactly what was proposed, sometimes it has been modified during negotiation with the sponsor.  Sometimes that commitment includes salary cost share, when we promise to use UW money to pay someone to work on the project.

At time of award, UW records the commitment and the cost share, if any, into the WISPER record project tab.  The commitment is reflected in the individual's effort card.  We track commitments for PIs and key personnel only.  The award document will name PI and key personnel.  If there is cost share, it feeds into the UW cost share system and is reflected in the individual's effort card.  When the individual is paid by the project, that payroll information is fed to the effort card.  The effort card will be certified by the certifier and then reviewed and processed by the effort coordinator, using ECRT, our effort certification system.

Effort is certified every six months for anyone paid on sponsored projects.  The periods covered are January through June, and July through December.  The effort cards display information for this six month period, and the certifier certifies based on activity in that period.  A three month effort certification window opens one month after the end of the period covered, in August (for Jan-Jun salary) and February (for July-Dec salary).  This certification window is the time when the cards are finalized by being certified and processed.  At the end of this period, all certified and processed cards are locked and cannot be reopened without formal approval from RSP.

Certification is our way of telling the sponsor that we kept the promise we made in our proposal.  The effort card becomes the official documentation that we fulfilled our commitment to the project.  Failure to document that fulfillment puts us out of compliance and risks audit findings, fines, and other punishments.

Basic Certification

During the effort certification window, certifiers certify their effort using ECRT, which will display the cards they must complete.  The cards contain information for the six month certification period.  An effort card is generated for all employees, but only the cards of those paid by sponsored funds are required to be certified.  A line is generated for every sponsored project the person was paid from and/or is PI on.  That line will identify the project number, show the suggested commitment level, the percentage of salary payrolled on the project, and the percentage of salary cost share on the project.  The salary numbers ECRT provides come directly from payroll.  The cost share numbers come from the cost share system.  ECRT calculates a "computed effort" level equivalent to the payroll percentage plus the cost share percentage.

Under normal circumstances, effort matches the way payroll was set up, so normally we simply certify as we were paid plus cost share, if any.  In other words, usually we just match the "computed effort" numbers ECRT provides.  There is an exception: PIs also certify 1% for each project for which they serve as PI but didn't get paid from this period.  This one percent is the minimum level of effort for an active grant, representing the PI's oversight of the project.  A PI must show 1% effort level on all projects where he or she is PI, even if not paid on those projects.  Fellowships, equipment-only grants, and training grants are excluded from the 1% minimum requirement. 

If a certifier discovers that his or her actual effort on a project is significantly different than how he or she was paid, then departmental staff should be informed so they can initiate a cost transfer to correct the problem.  In other words, if your actual effort on a project doesn't match the "computed effort" number, which equals payroll plus cost share, then we need to adjust payroll with a salary cost transfer to match salary with actual effort.

Additional Concepts

We are required to certify the minimum required effort.  In most cases, the minimum required effort will be equivalent to the salary paid plus the cost share (if any).  If a certifier certifies less than the payroll amount, this is an admission of being overpaid by the grant.  An example of this would be if I were paid 10% by the grant, but I certify that I only put 5% of my time into the project.  I'm telling the sponsor that I was overpaid by 5%.  If the effort certification is correct, a salary cost transfer would be required to remove the excess salary from the grant.  In most cases, under certification is simply an error by the certifier, and should be corrected by recertifying at the appropriate amount.  Conversely, a certifier should not certify more than salary plus cost share, because that would be certifying more than the minimum required amount.  Certification of the minimum required amount doesn't mean that you only put that minimum amount of effort into the project, but that you put at least that amount of effort into the project.

Faculty and Academic staff certify their own effort cards.  Students and University Staff effort cards are certified by their supervisors.  The certifier must have a reasonable means of verification of the effort.  In some cases, a student or university staff member will have effort on multiple projects, in those cases the various PIs should communicate outside of the ECRT system to confirm that the individual put in the minimum required amount of effort into the project.  The person assigned the card should complete all the certifications and submit the card following confirmation that the appropriate amount of effort was put in.

Some Students and University Staff Self-Certify.  Why?  The ECRT system uses payroll and appointment data to assign people to various PI's effort-certification lists.  It's not elegant because it has to deal with some messy real-world situations.  If someone has multiple appointments, it has a certain way of dealing with them.  For example, let's say someone is employed as a lecturer and an RA during the certification period.  The lecturer position takes precedence and that gives the individual the right to certify herself.  The system can't split out the lecturer part from the RA part, so she can go ahead and certify herself for both the lecturer and RA time.  Next time around, that individual may or may not have the ability to self-certify; it will depend on what kind of appointments she has.

PIs certify a minimum of 1% effort on all their projects.  1% has been determined to be the minimum amount of effort required to put forth on a project if you are PI.  This will typically be coded in as a commitment, but sometimes it is entered as official cost share.  This 1% obligation can be certified by taking one percent off the non-sponsored amount at the bottom of the card, and putting it on the project that needs the minimum 1%.  This many need to be done several times to cover all the projects on which the certifier is PI.

Cost Share.  Cost Share is when we share the cost of a project with the sponsor.  For Effort purposes, only Salary Cost Share is of interest, because it increases the amount of effort that must be reported.  When salary cost share is part of a proposal, it will be coded into the cost share system at time of award for tracking purposes.  The cost share system feeds data into ECRT and populates the cost share column of the effort card.  Computed Effort, the suggested amount of effort to report on a given row in the effort card, is equivalent to the payroll percentage plus the cost share percentage.  Just like any other commitment, we are obligated to track and fulfill cost share commitments, and to be able to document for the sponsor that the promised amount of cost share has been provided.  Cost share increases the effort on a project.  If you need to make a cost share update, utilize the cost share update form found on RSP's webpage: https://www.rsp.wisc.edu/forms/costshareCommitment_update/index.cfm.

Salary Cap. The Salary Cap is enforced on higher salary individuals paid on NIH or other DHHS grants.  These individuals have been identified and they and their departments receive extensive information about the salary cap and what needs to be done to comply with it.  Effort Reporting is a key component of complying with the salary cap.  Anyone who exceeds the salary cap must be paid a certain amount of salary from non-sponsored sources in the months that he or she is paid on NIH or other DHHS funds.  The amount of non-sponsored funding required is called the Implied Cap Cost Share.  This will NEVER be coded as official cost share.  It is an amount beyond the NIH/DHHS compensation plus any official cost share. 

The bottom line is that anyone affected by the cap will certify at a higher percentage than what shows in the effort card as the Computed Effort, which equals payroll + official cost share.  RSP provides a report, the salary cap consideration report, at the beginning of every effort certification window that gives a suggested certification level based on the person's payroll and the amount she or he is above the cap.  If the payrolled amount is correct, then the certifier should certify at the level RSP suggests, which will always be higher than the amount of computed effort shown on the effort card.  An updated report is provided a month before the end of the certification window.  Furthermore, L&S provides additional reports, information and assistance in complying with the cap.  An improperly certified card is a big problem for someone over the cap and paid on NIH or other DHHS funds.  Over the cap certifiers and effort coordinators should pay close attention to the RSP salary cap consideration report and to any additionals communication from RSP or L&S regarding salary cap related effort certification.  If you have questions, please contact John Varda in the L&S Research Services Office, john.varda at wisc.edu.

More info on salary cap: https://kb.wisc.edu/ls/page.php?id=42851

Re-opening Cards. There are times when a certified and processed effort card needs to be reopened following the end of the effort certification window for that card.  In those cases, a memo addressed to the Director of RSP must be created, detailing the reason for the reopening the card.  The memo should be forwarded to the divisional office for approval.  Before the effort certification deadline, effort cards may be certified, processed and returned by the effort coordinator to the certifier for recertification as many times as needed.  The formal re-open request is only needed after the effort certification window closes.  Please contact John Varda in L&S Research Services, john.varda at wisc.edu, if you think you need to reopen a completed effort card. 

Salary Transfers. Salary transfers affect effort reporting.  When a salary cost transfer posts, the effort card is updated with the new payroll information.  During a certification period, if you know a salary cost transfer will be coming through, hold off on certification and processing until the cost transfer posts and the card is updated with the new information.  If you certify using the pre-transfer payroll levels as a guide, the certification will be incorrect and will need to be redone after the cost transfer posts.

Useful Links

RSP Effort Page and ECRT: https://www.rsp.wisc.edu/effort/index.cfm

Effort Training For Certifiers: https://www.rsp.wisc.edu/effort/training/

UW Effort Policy: https://www.rsp.wisc.edu/effort/UWMadisonEffortPolicy.pdf

Guidelines for Effort Reporting: https://www.rsp.wisc.edu/effort/ectraining/GuidelinesForEffortReporting.pdf

Effort Glossary: https://www.rsp.wisc.edu/effort/effortGlossary.cfm

Effort Coordinator's Guide: https://www.rsp.wisc.edu/effort/ectraining/ECGuide.pdf

Lookup Tools

Certification Status Lookup Screen
Commitment Lookup Tool
Effort Coordinator Search
Effort Payroll Query
Effort Percentage Calculator
Individuals with Overdue Effort Tasks
List of Coordinators by Department
Training Status Lookup Screen


Cost Sharing & Commitment Update Form - Use this form to modify or update Commitment and Cost Share percentages as needed to ensure that effort statements accurately reflect actual commitments.

Form for Requesting a Delegation of the PI's Certification Authority - When someone other than the PI has suitable means of verifying the work of the project staff, an effort coordinator can print this form, complete it, and send it to RSP.

Cover Sheet for Submitting a Printed and Certified ECRT Statement - For use when there is an ECRT effort statement but electronic certification is not possible. This CANNOT be used as an alternative to ECRT merely for reasons of convenience. Revised 8/26/2009

Effort Certification Form for Individuals with No UW Payroll - Use this form to certify if you devote effort to a sponsored project but receive no UW payroll, and therefore have no ECRT effort statement.

Questions? Contact John Varda, john.varda at wisc.edu, 890-1810.

See Also:

Keywords:reporting, sponsored, commitment, commitments, cost share, ECRT, effort card, certification, 1% minimum, salary cap, effort coordinator, recertify, re-opening effort cards   Doc ID:54393
Owner:John V.Group:L&S KB
Created:2015-07-27 14:10 CDTUpdated:2021-03-03 08:51 CDT
Sites:L&S KB
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