I hope that this message finds you well, safely at home with family and seeing friends and loved ones virtually. The last several weeks have been challenging, disruptive, and anxiety inducing, but I have been so encouraged by seeing the UConn community band together to support our students, faculty, staff, and citizens of our state. We have all had to adjust to this new normal, while ensuring that the safety and health of our research workforce, students, faculty, staff, and animals remain our highest priority. While the timeline for resuming research remains unclear due to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation, our office is working closely with University leadership to ensure a process is in place to transition back to normal research operations and we will be providing regular updates to the University community. We also encourage you to check for updates on the OVPR’s COVID-19 Resource page where you will find additional information, guidance, and FAQs related to research. For general guidance and updates, visit the Coronavirus information pages for UConn and UConn Health.
Office of Management and Budget, OMB M-20-17 Memorandum Issued March 19, 2020
Earlier this week at the Council of Deans meeting, I shared that the OVPR has been working with other university offices to fully take advantage of flexibilities provided by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to federal agencies in their memorandum OMB M-20-17 Administrative Relief for Applicants of Federal Financial Assistance Directly impacted by COVID 19 due to Loss of Operation. The OMB memorandum authorizes agencies to take certain actions to provide flexibility for recipients directly impacted by COVID-19. Over the weeks following the issuance of the memo, I am pleased to share that most federal agencies have adopted the flexibilities provided for by the OMB for grants. These flexibilities include applicant deadlines, no-cost extensions, allowability of salaries and other project costs, and certain waivers of prior approvals and extension of close-outs. You may find individual sponsor updates on the OVPR website and guidance is also provided in the OVPR FAQs. Of course, you may always reach out to staff in Sponsored Program Services with any questions and we recommend you also sign up for alerts directly from the sponsors from whom you have funding.
According to the memo, the exceptions are time-limited and will be reassessed by OMB within 90 days of the memo. We do not have an estimate of when to expect a “return to normal,” hence we do not know when federal agencies will end the flexibilities adopted under the OMB memo. Although, we think they will listen to the research community and try to understand whether the circumstances still warrant exceptions.
Critical Research Infrastructure Inventory
To ensure the long-term viability of many research programs during the shutdown, the OVPR quickly assembled a cross-campus team to assess critical research infrastructure, as submitted by faculty. Critical research infrastructure includes unique reagents, unique cell lines, equipment, liquid nitrogen stocks, COVID-19 targeted research, and certain long-term experiments. This was a complex and very time-sensitive endeavor, which is still ongoing as needs evolve. The OVPR would like to express our sincere thanks to the review committee members who met virtually several times a day to evaluate these requests in order to ensure proper maintenance of the research infrastructure and the safety of research teams. Please join me in thanking them.
- Lisa Park-Boush, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Affairs, Professor and Department Head
- Rajesh Lalla, School of Dental Medicine, Associate Dean for Research, Professor
- Leslie Shor, School of Engineering, Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Education, Associate Professor
- Anthony Vella, School of Medicine, Senior Associate Dean for Research Planning and Development, Professor and Chair
- Kumar Venkitanarayanan, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, Professor
If you still need to submit critical research infrastructure inventory for review or amend an approved form, complete the Critical Research Infrastructure Inventory form.
Animal Care at UConn and UConn Health
UConn’s dedication to exemplary animal care services has never wavered, even during these challenging times. Animal care staff at both Storrs and UConn Health in Farmington had extensive plans in place well ahead of this crisis, allowing them to continue to support researchers as they ramped down their projects. The operations of Animal Care Services at Storrs and the Center for Comparative Medicine at UConn Health are running as normal, as activity has ceased in most cases and slowed in certain exceptional cases. All staff are healthy and continuing to maintain animal care. All animal orders and transfers have been halted. Any ongoing research should have submitted a Critical Research Infrastructure form for both lab and animal work that needs to continue. At this time, food and bedding have not been impacted and there is a sufficient reserve of supplies to continue at this level for several months. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) continue to run as normal, with staff working from home. Semi-annual inspections scheduled for April in Storrs were granted a six-month extension. These inspections will be rescheduled as soon as possible after the shutdown.
Human Subjects Research and Environment Health and Safety
The IRBs, Biosafety Committees, and Radiation Safety Committees continue to run as normal, with staff working from home.
Guidance on Proposals Submission
Due to increased proposal submissions and a desire to provide strong service in support of proposal submissions, sponsored project proposals (including the final budget and application, science in draft) must be submitted well in advance of the deadline and in accordance with Sponsored Program Services’ (SPS) five-day minimum processing policy. Additionally, the final application, ready for submission, must be submitted the day before the deadline. With staff working remotely and the challenges this may present, SPS cannot promise that proposals received less than 48 hours before the deadline or final applications received on the day of the deadline will be reviewed and submitted on time. See OVPR FAQ on Proposal submissions for more information.
Guidance on Salary & Stipends charged to Sponsored Programs
Following guidance from Human Resources on 2020-04-03 FAQs related to salaries and stipends on research grants and contracts were released. Sponsored Projects Salary and Stipend FAQs address questions for Principal Investigators (PIs) and full- and part-time salaried employees paid on sponsored projects, including postdoctoral research associates and graduate assistants. Visit the HR COVID-19 sites for UConn Information and UConn Health Information.
Donating Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from Research Grants & Contracts
We want to make sure UConn researchers know that residual supplies purchased from a grant or contract that has ended may be donated to UConn Health. In addition, the NIH is allowing recipients to donate PPE and other lab supplies in support of efforts related to COVID-19. Recipients may re-budget grant funds to repurchase supplies at a later date. As of this writing, the NSF just released their guidance for donation (see NSF April 10 implementing guidance). We anticipate that other federal sponsors will follow the NIH. Sponsor Guidance will be updated on the COVID-19 Sponsor Issued Guidance website. Note that in the case of NSF, prior sponsor approval is required.
For information on how to make a donation, please see the “Personal Protective Equipment FAQs.”
UConn Research Tackling COVID-19
As mentioned before, it has been incredibly heartening to see how swiftly UConn’s researchers have taken action to help tackle this global crisis. There has been regular coverage in UConn Today and the media about UConn research collaborations to quickly produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), new research grants focused on COVID-19, and scholarship that addresses the impact of this pandemic on education, the economy, and society. I encourage you to visit UConn Today to read about the many new projects, publications, and partnerships that are already yielding encouraging results.
COVID-19 Funding Opportunities
The OVPR has created a webpage to share external and internal funding opportunities related to COVID-19 research. You can also contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request that additional opportunities be added to the site and shared with the UConn research community.
Supplemental Federal Support for Sponsored Programs
The OVPR recognizes that each month of the shutdown represents significant lost productivity toward research objectives and milestones. As such, the OVPR is working in close collaboration with UConn’s Office of Governmental Relations, the Connecticut Congressional Delegation, and other APLU universities to request that supplemental federal funding be made available to federal agencies to provide to grantees at institutions of higher education to address the unprecedented disruption to research caused by the COVID-19 crisis. This is an ongoing process, and updates will be provided as they become available.
The President and the OVPR will hold an informational session specific to research. The date and time of this informational session will be forthcoming. We have received a number of questions from faculty, administrators and the Faculty Senate and plan to address all of them and point to guidance as applicable. The session will be divided into two parts: the first will offer an update from the OVPR on all the available information that we have at this time, with an understanding that there remain many unknowns. This update will be followed by a Q&A period.
As always, my team and I thank you for your continued support and dedication to UConn and UConn Health. We will continue to keep you updated as the situation evolves. If you have any questions, please visit the OVPR COVID-19 Resource page, the Coronavirus information pages for UConn and UConn Health, or email email@example.com.
Radenka Maric, PhD
Vice President for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship