Tri-Agency Administration Guide

The Tri-Agency is made up of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).  They are a major source of research funding for post-secondary institutions across Canada.  Additionally, the CRC (Canada Research Chair program CERC (Canada Excellence Research Chairs) and NCE (Network of Centres of Excellence) are jointly administered by the three granting agencies.

This section provides additional guidance to McGill research administrators on the financial management of Tri-Agency grants.  It is important to have strong financial administrative procedures in place to ensure accountability, compliance and stewardship for the public funding received from the Tri-Agency.

 

Compliance Matters

Researchers are responsible for using grant or award funds in accordance with the policies of the Agencies, including the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide (TAFAG) and Agency grants and awards guides.  They are also responsible for providing true, complete and accurate information on documentation for expenditures from grant or award accounts.

Using grant or award for purposes inconsistent with the policies of the Agencies; misappropriating grants and award funds; contravening Agency financial policies; providing incomplete, inaccurate or false information on documentation for expenditures from grant or award accounts all constitute breaches of the Agencies’ policies.

Non-compliance could result in freezing or closing of grants, repayment of expenses or the Agency can terminate grants or declare that the researcher is ineligible to apply for future funding.  Non-compliance does not just affect one grantee, but the institution as a whole.

Proper Authorization

The grantee is responsible for authorizing all expenditures from his/her grant in accordance to the Tri-Agency’s requirements and conditions of grants and with the institution’s policies.  No other party may initiate or authorize expenditures from a grant account without the grantee’s delegated authority.

The grantee’s signature certify that:

  • All expenditures are for the purpose for which the grant was awarded;
  • All expenditures are eligible expenses;
  • All goods and/or services have been received;
  • The charges included have not been claimed for reimbursement from other sources; and
  • Reimbursements for expenditures received from other sources or institutions must be disclosed to the administering institution.

Delegation of Signing Authority

If the grantee is away from the University (e.g. sabbatical leave, personal/parental leave, unpaid leave/leaves of absence), the grantee may elect to delegate signing authority.  The delegate must be a faculty or staff member possessing the necessary skills and knowledge for the effective exercise of signing authority.

The grantee must delegate temporary signing authority for travel advances, expense reports, payment requests, POPS timesheets and purchase requisition approvals on Minerva.  This will ensure a proper audit trail on the delegation of signing authority for these transaction streams.

Delegation of Signing Authority and Approvals

How to Delegate Temporary Signing Authority (for Travel Advances, Expense Reports, Payment Requests and POPS timesheets)

How to Delegate Purchase Requisition Approvals (for McGill Marketplace)

Frequently Asked Questions - Delegation of Signing Authority

Adequate Justification

The grantee must be able to explain how the expenditure is a direct cost of research and why it is needed for the conduct of the funded research project when prescribed by the Tri-Agency or when necessary to enable the institution to conclude on the eligibility of the expense.  Purchases for the sake of convenience are not eligible.  For example, an iPad is eligible if necessary for the funded research (i.e. data collection).  It is not eligible if required solely for convenience (i.e. easier to carry, accessing email, etc.).  The institution must have this documentation on file from the grantee that explains how the expense supports the research objectives.  All funds must be used effectively and economically, and expenses must be essential for which the funds were awarded.

Questions about Expense Eligibility
Before approving the expense or claim, gather all relevant information and forward to rfmsexpense-eligibility.finserv [at] mcgill.ca.  The expense and the information provided will be assessed and a decision will be rendered.  If further guidance is required, the Agency will be contacted for a final verdict.

Record Retention of Supporting Documentation

For each grant, the institution and/or the grantee must keep complete and accurate records on the use of Agency funding, including verifiable audit trails with complete supporting documentation for each transaction, for a minimum of seven years.  Supporting documentation must be readily available in the event of an audit.  Lack of supporting documentation evidencing the grantee or delegate’s authorization will be deemed non-compliant.  If the requested backup is not provided within the allotted time frame, it will also be deemed non-compliant.

Documents evidencing appropriate authorization must be retained by the Faculty/Department/Unit, either in electronic format or hardcopy, in shared folders, easily accessible and retrievable upon request by the Tri-Agency.  Ensure that all documents are consistently saved in a central local repository.  While scanning original, signed documents is an acceptable means of preserving files, the use of digital electronic signature or images of hand-written signature is not accepted as proof of the grantee or delegate’s approval.

Document and Retention Responsibilities

Announcement - New Requirement for Research Expenses: Digital Record Retention - October 2015

TAFAG Eligible Expenses, Ineligible Expenses and Supporting Evidence Required

Other Considerations

Charge direct costs of research correctly

Which fund does the expense belong to?

Is the expense eligible on the fund?

Is there enough monies in the fund?

Is it charged within the grant period?

Assess if an expense is eligible

Is the expense allowable by the agency regulations?

Is the expense allocable, that is, the project which paid the expense must benefit from it?

Is the expense reasonable, that is, the cost reflects what a "prudent person" might pay?

Is the expense consistent, that is, it must be handled consistently across the University?

Use appropriate account codes for all expenses

For more information on expense account code definitions, visit: http://kb.mcgill.ca/fskb/easylink/article.html?id=3892

For a listing of account codes, go to Banner Form FTVACCT

Avoid expenditure transfers from one fund to another

Plan budget realistically.  Prioritize research components and funding required to carry out research activities

Research estimated costs and include the research that has been done, listing specifications as appropriate

Plan salary distribution and other expenses based on fund termination dates

Be mindful of large purchases in the last six months

Large purchases toward the end of the grant period raises flags

May indicate poor management of Agency funding

 

Guidance for Use of Tri-Agency Funds

The following are guidelines to assist grantees and research administrators in their interpretation of the acceptable use of Tri-Agency grant funds.  The list of examples is not exhaustive.

TAFAG Eligible Expenses, Ineligible Expenses and Supporting Evidence Required

General Principles

  • Funds must be used effectively and economically, and the expenses must be essential for the research for which the funds were awarded.
  • Expenses must be for the direct costs of research for which the funds were awarded, and the benefits should be directly attributed to the project.  If the purchase was not made, could the research still be conducted?  If the answer is NO, then it is a direct cost of research.
  • Any items purchased with grant funds belong to the institution and not the individual grantee, unless the funding Agency agrees otherwise in writing.
  • The grantee or delegate must authorize all expenses charged to the grant.
  • Costs associated with facilities and basic utitilies, the purchase and repair of office equipment, adminsitration fees, insurance for equipment and research vehicles, and basic communication devices such as telephones and fax machines are deemed indirect costs of research and are provided by the institution.
  • In the presence of both an Agency policy and an institutional policy, the Agency policy supersedes the institutional policy.  In the absence of written Agency policy, the institutional policy is to be applied.
  • The institution has the right and responsibility to withhold payment of expenses that contravene Agency or institutional policies.

Eligible compensation-related expenses on Tri-Agency grants include stipends and salaries.  A stipend is financial support given to a recipient of a training award, or provided by a grantee to a trainee, to support them while they are working on their research thesis and/or gaining research experience.  A salary is remuneration for work performed by research personnel that contributes toward the direct cost of research for which the funds were awarded, in accordance with institutional employment contracts or collective agreements, where applicable.

Stipends for undergraduate and graduate students are paid through the Award Processing Form on the Banner Student Aid (BSA) System in Minerva.  Prior to the student getting paid, the Student Stipend Authorization Form must be signed by the grantee.  Digital signatures and stamps are not permitted.

Processing Student Stipends using BSA

Salaries and all other stipends are paid through payroll, either through the Minerva Appointment Form or the Payroll One-Time Payment System (POPS).  Faculties need to ensure that proper controls are in place to prevent duplicates from occurring.

The Tri-Agency expects there to be a signed record regarding personnel paid from Tri-Agency grants. The offer letter should include the following information:

  • Name of the individual
  • Job category
  • Salary level
  • Affiliation to the grant
  • Length of time of the appointment

The Faculty/Department/Unit must retain the supporting documentation in a central local repository for a minimum of seven years and readily available in the event of an internal or external audit.

 Proper Authorization

Transaction

Grantee Authorization

Delegation Accepted

Hire/Offer Letter/Letter of Agreements/Etc.

Casual employees paid through POPS:

Employees paid via POPS must have an offer letter that is signed by the grantee.

Employees paid through Minerva:

The grantee must sign these documents prior to the creation of an appointment in Minerva.  An email from the grantee that specifies the FOAPAL(s) to charge must be retained and attached to the Offer Letter prior to processing via Minerva.

No.

Retro FOAPAL adjustments to appointments and Changes to labour distribution

Grantee must authorize these transactions. Email is acceptable.

No.

POPS Timesheets

Grantee signature and date is required on the timesheet after the work is completed and before the payment is processed.  Digital signatures and stamps are not permitted.

POPS requisitions must not be entered before the work is completed.

Yes.

Student Stipend Payment Authorization Form

Grantee must sign the form.

No.

Travel and Subsistence Costs

Travel and subsistence costs (meals and accommodation) include reasonable out-of-pocket expenses for field work, research conferences, collaborative trips, archival work and historical research, for the grantee, research personnel and students working with the grantee, and visiting researchers.

Original receipts must be attached to the claim (credit card chits are not considered original receipts).  Memos are not accepted (see Reimbursement of Expenses – Procedure Update regarding missing receipts).  Ensure that there is sufficient fund balance to cover the expenditure and that the travel dates fall within the period of the grant award.

Reimbursement of Expenses Requirements Checklist

Requirement

Explanation

Example/Comments

One comprehensive expense report per trip

Each trip must have its own separate claim.  Travel expenses must be submitted within 30 days following the return date from the trip.

If a travel component is missing (e.g. hotel, airfare, etc.), an explanation is required (e.g. hotel was paid by the conference organizers).

Purpose of trip

Provide reason(s) why trip was necessary for the research.  Spell out all acronyms.

Attended a conference which discussed food science which is related to my grant because I am hoping to introduce a new technique in food engineering to stop food deterioration.

Fieldwork in the Yangtze River; studied the irrigation system for my NSERC <name of award> research where I am analyzing the impact on rice cultivation.

Collaboration at the University of <name> with Prof. <name(s)>; comparison of research findings related to <name> theory which is directly related to my research grant.

Archival work at the Pointe-à-Callière; visited the archaeological remains of Befana, Saint Nicholas, Saint Lucy and Santa Claus to explain how holidays are celebrated in different parts of the world, which is directly related to my research grant.

Claimant’s affiliation to the grantee

To show how the claimant is linked to the research.

Examples of affiliation:

  • Graduate Student
  • Research Staff
  • Collaborator
  • Visiting Researcher
  • Guest Speaker
  • Project Manager

Mr. Smith, PhD student working on project X, for Dr. Xavier.

Conference program/prospectus and Meeting Agenda

To demonstrate how the conference/meeting:

  • Is related to the research;
  • That the travel dates align with the conference dates;
  • That meals are not double counted.

For a conference program, a few pages is acceptable, preferably the ones where the claimant is presenting (if applicable).  The prospectus must include the conference name, location and dates of the conference and workshops.

For a meeting, an agenda or email communication is acceptable.

For a talk, a poster is acceptable.

For collaboration, proof of consultation is needed.

Per Diem

Meals that were not covered by the conference/workshop registration fee are allowed, therefore a per diem is allowed (breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Per diems cannot be claimed in instances in which the traveler chooses not to participate in the meals provided by the conference.

Per diem rates in Canada:

$54 CAD for overnight trips

$10 CAD for breakfast

$16 CAD for lunch

$28 CAD for supper

Per diem rates for outside Canada:

$70 for overnight trips

$12 CAD for breakfast

$21 CAD for lunch

$37 CAD for supper

Meal receipts

Detailed receipts and proof of payment are required.

Per diem is not allowed if food was provided by the conference.

For meal (and hospitality) reimbursement, the original meal receipt that outlines the actual items consumed is to accompany the claim.  The credit card receipt is not valid.  The Tri-Agency is looking to ensure no alcohol was purchased.

 

Alcohol

Alcohol is not permitted and must be deducted from the receipt.

Include the alcohol as a “Non-McGill Expense” on the Request for Expense Reimbursement Claim.

Hospitality

It is expected that hospitality expenses are incurred for the purpose of research-related activities in the perspective that the hospitality can be used as a forum to facilitate and contribute to the achievement of the research objectives.  Hospitality is allowed for networking purposes in the context of a formal courtesy between the grantee and guest researchers (e.g. grantee meting with partners, stakeholders, guest researchers).

The following must be included:

  • The date(s) of the event(s);
  • Number of participants;
  • Purpose of the event;

Countersignature by the department head or dean for hospitality expenses claimed by the grantee.

Hotel Receipts

Detailed invoice and proof of payment are required.

If the hotel was booked online with a company like, Expedia or HotWire, the booking confirmation with the credit card statement is mandatory if proof of payment is not indicated.

Airfare

Detailed receipt and proof of payment are required.  Economy fare only.

Where airfare includes avoidable stopovers or extended travel, a quote for direct airfare, must be obtained at the same time of the actual purchase.

Boarding passes

Mandatory if there is not enough evidence to place the person in the city.

Boarding pass is no longer required when other evidence exists to prove the trip occurred (e.g. one of the following is attached – hotel invoice, taxi chit, meal receipts).

Computers/Tablets/Modems/Emerging Technology/Other Hardware and/or Specialized Software

Acceptable if required for research and if not normally provided by the institution.

Requires an adequate justification.

The grantee must be able to explain how the expenditure is a direct cost of research and why it is needed for the conduct of the funded research project.

Supplies

Verify the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide for eligibility.

 

Original currency on invoice/receipt

Ensure that both the transaction amount as well as the currency indicated in the expense report, matches the total amount and currency, as it appears on the paid receipt.

 

Credit card statements

When credit card statements are attached, the amount reimbursed to the claimant must match that of the statement.

 

Original Receipts

Credit card chits are not permitted.  Tri-Agency requires that details of daily claims for expenditures have the supporting documentation and there is a justification for the expenses.

 

Proper Authorization

Claimant

Signature Required

Countersignature

Comments

Student

Grantee

N/A

Delegation of signing authority is not accepted.

If grantee is away from University, an email approval is acceptable provided that the specific expense report is attached to the email for the PI to review and approve.

Visitor

Grantee

One-up1

Delegation of signing authority is not accepted.

Claimant can sign the Visitor Claimant Sheet.

Grantee

One-up1

N/A

The one-up is usually the Department Head/Chair.

If the Department Head is absent, either the acting Department Head/Dean must sign.

If the researcher is a Department Head, the Dean must sign.

Delegate

Grantee or Grantee's One-up1

N/A

Claim must be signed by the grantee.

When the grantee is away from the University, the approval from the one-up is required.

Other Research Personnel

Grantee or Delegate

N/A

 

1One-up is the Chair, Dean or Department Head

Checklist - Reimbursement of Expenses Requirements - Tri-Agency

Sabbatical/Research Leave

Eligible sabbatical/research leave expenses include:

  • Vehicle costs for field work
  • Direct research expenses
  • Moving costs to relocate research equipment to sabbatical location
  • Travel costs to attend conferences
  • One round trip airfare to sabbatical location (NSERC and CIHR only)

Non-eligible sabbatical/research leave expenses include:

  • Travel costs of research personnel for supervisory or academic purposes
  • Travel from sabbatical location for supervisory or academic purposes
  • Living expenses

Equipment and Supplies

As a general rule, the Tri-Agency expects the institution to assume indirect costs and general expenses of the research project, such as costs associated with office accessories normally already provided for institution staff.  Expenditures on supplies is admissible if they are not part of the “basic equipment” of the university’s academic and research mission and if they are not normally provided for institution staff.  Moreover, the grantee must explain how those supplies are essential to his/her research activities.

Expenditures on research equipment and supplies, as well as costs of training staff that will use the specialized instruments or facilities, are eligible.  Eligible research equipment and supplies include:

  • Laboratory notebooks.
  • Paper used for laboratory operation in the context of a funded research project (correspondence with clients, printing results).
  • Paper used for data collection (e.g. questionnaires).
  • Printing of an equipment user manual used on a funded research project.
  • Printing of e-journal articles relevant to the research project.
  • Travel costs to visit manufacturers to select major equipment purchases.
  • Transportation costs for purchased equipment.
  • Extended warranty for equipment.
  • Brokerage and customs charges for the importation of equipment and supplies.
  • The costs of training staff to use equipment or a specialized facility.
  • Maintenance and operating costs of equipment and vehicles used for Agency-supported research.

List of Eligible and Non-Eligible Expenses for Stationery and Office Supplies

Computers and Electronic Communications

Computers, tablets, modems, emerging technology and other hardware and/or specialized software are eligible if it is required for research, and is not normally provided by the institution.  The grantee will need to provide adequate justification to explain how the expense is a direct cost of research.

Cell phones, smart phones or other electronic devices are not eligible unless they are necessary for research purposes (e.g. data collection), and/or for personal safety reasons.  This also applies to monthly plan fees for electronic devices.  The grantee must provide adequate justification to clearly demonstrate that the item is essential for the conduct of the research and that it is a direct cost of research.

  • Should be a best use of funds – economic and efficient.
  • Should be used for safety on the field when the location is in a remote area.
  • Should be used for development of software applications.
  • Should be used for recording, filming and scanning capabilities.
  • Should be used for computer capabilities.
  • Should not be any personal gain to the researcher (e.g. it would be unreasonable for a researcher to have a tablet and a smart phone and charge the monthly fees when out on the field for both items).
  • Should not be used for administrative and academic purposes.
  • Should not be used for basic communication purposes or simply for convenience.

All items purchased with grant funds belong to the institution and not to the individual grantee, unless the funding Agency agrees otherwise in writing, or unless doing so would be contrary to a legislated requirement. As owner, the institution is responsible for ensuring that the items are used to support the research program of the grantee and co-grantees. Decisions on the use and management of the items should be made between the institution and the grantee or user group.

Hospitality Expenses

Hospitality costs (non-alcoholic beverages or meals) for networking purposes in the context of formal courtesy between the grantee and guest researchers and research-related activities in the context of assemblies that facilitate and contribute to the achievement of the research objectives (e.g. grantee meeting with partners, stakeholders, guest researchers) are eligible expenses.

Costs of alcohol, entertainment, gifts and regular interactions with colleagues from the institution and personnel meetings are all ineligible expenses.

 

Guidance by Transaction Types (Streams)

Appointment Forms

  • Offer letters must be signed by the grantee.
  • Grantee signing authority cannot be delegated.
  • Any changes in labour distribution must be made in writing, approved by the grantee and retained on file in a central repository.
  • Email approvals are acceptable.
  • Digital signatures and stamps are not permitted.
  • Student stipend authorization forms must be signed before instalments are paid.
  • Digital signatures and stamps are not permitted.

Deposits

  • A memo confirming what the money is for and where it should be deposited should be retained at the department level to support the deposit.  It does not have to be signed by the grantee.

Expense Reports/Travel Advances

  • Affiliation of grantee must be specified.
  • Conference program/prospectus or meeting agenda must be attached to the claim to support travel.
  • Original invoices must be attached to the claim (credit card chits are not considered original receipts).
  • Alcohol is not permitted - it must be deducted from the receipt.
  • Detailed meal receipts are required for meals being charged on Tri-Agency grants.
  • Computer Equipment justification - As per the TAFAG, computers, tablets, modems, emerging technology and other hardware and/or specialized software required fro the research not normally provided by the institution, and with adequate justification.
  • Digital signatures and stamps are not permitted.

Journal Vouchers/Inter-Departmental Charge (IDC)

  • Ensure eligibility of the item to be reclassified prior to processing the entry.
  • Limit journal vouchers to a minimum.
  • Approvals for journals/IDCs have to be obtained in writing by the grantee and retained on file in a central repository (either via memo or email).

McGill Marketplace (MMP)

  • All POs are approved in MMP.
  • Ensure delegated employees are knowledgeable and have the necessary skills to approve on the grantee's behalf.

Payment Requests

  • Payment requests have to be signed by the grantee or the delegate.
  • Delegate must be appointed in the Minerva Delegation Menu.
  • Digital signatures and stamps are not permitted.

Payroll One-time Payment System (POPS)

  • The grantee must sign offer letters for hourly workers.
  • Timesheets for hourly workers must be signed by the grantee/delegate.
  • Digital signatures and stamps are not permitted.

Procurement Card (PCard)

  • As stated in the PCard policy, all receipts must be retained and be easily accessible, even in the absence of the cardholder.
  • All PCard transactions are approved electronically in the McGill Online PCard Service (MOPS) by the grantee or the delegate.
  • Computer Equipment justification - As per the TAFAG, computers, tablets, modems, emerging technology and other hardware and/or specialized software required for the research not normally provided by the institution, and with adequate justification​.

How to use MOPS – McGill Online PCard Service

PCard Information and Reconciliation/Approval Schedule

UPrint

  • Authorization from the grantee must be obtained prior to granting students or staff printing privileges and assigning a FOAPAL via the Minerva UPrint menu.
  • Refer to the TAFAG guidelines on printing eligibility.
  • UPrint requests must be made in writing and retained on file in a central local repository.
  • Email request with fund number and grantee approval is acceptable.

 

Resources

Presentation - Understanding "Bread & Butter" Agencies (Tri-Agencies) - July 2013

Video - Understanding "Bread & Butter" Agencies (Tri-Agencies) - July 2013

Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide

 

Contact Us

OSR Awards awards.osr [at] mcgill.ca
RFMS Expense Eligibility rfmsexpense-eligibility.finserv [at] mcgill.ca
RFMS Financial Administrator Go to Banner Form FTMFUND > Options > McGill Fund Options
RFMS Help Desk awards.osr [at] mcgill.ca (r)rfmshelpdesk.finserv [at] mcgill.ca