Tri-Agency Financial Administration

New principles-based guidelines are in effect as of April 1, 2020

Page last updated July 16, 2020 5:32 p.m.

On April 1, 2020, the new Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration (TAGFA) took effect. Administration and use of grant funds are no longer be governed by list-based guidelines. Instead, eligibility is determined based on adherence to four principles, supported by directives (mandatory requirements) set out in TAGFA. 

These updates are the result of the 2017 renewal initiative led by CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC with the following objectives: 

  • Streamline and simplify the administration and use of grant funds
  • Promote efficiencies and reduce administrative burden
  • Clarify accountability of stakeholders
  • Achieve a balance between compliance and flexibility
  • Maximize the use of existing institutional policies, processes and controls

Grant expenditure guidelines

These four basic principles govern the appropriate use of funds.


1

Grant expenditures must contribute towards the direct costs of the research/activities for which the funds were awarded, and the benefits should be directly attributable to the grant.

2

Grant expenditures must not normally be provided by the administering institution to their research personnel.

3

Grant expenditures must be effective and economical.

4

Grant expenditures must not result in personal gain for any member of the grant team.

Eligible expenses under the previous Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide that respect the four key principles and the directives as outlined continue to be an appropriate use of grant funds.

Additional TAGFA information

According to the Tri-agencies: "The purpose of the principle-based approach was to streamline and simplify the administration and use of grant funds, and move to a less directive and burdensome approach for institutions and grant recipients. The project was initiated partly in response to feedback from stakeholders regarding the inefficiencies and unnecessary burden imposed by the existing financial administration guide and to support harmonization efforts within the Tri-agency."

"The TAGFA offers distinct roles and responsibilities for the Agencies, the institutions and the grant recipients. The focus is on principles and directives rather than requirements; it allows an enhanced responsiveness to the evolving research environment, reduces the administrative burden for institutions and grant recipients and offers clearer and more consistent guidance from the Agencies."

In addition to the four principles, five directives have been established to provide a framework for administering institutions and grant recipients to exercise sound judgment and due diligence in their decision making process concerning the use of Agency grant funds:

  • Employment and Compensation Expenses
  • Goods and Services Expenditures 
  • Travel and Travel Related Subsistence Expenditures  
  • Hospitality Expenditures 
  • Gifts, Honoraria, Incentives

The directives are detailed in "Part 2: Use of Grant Funds" in the TAGFA guide. 

The three Agencies’ commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is captured in the Tri-Agency Statement on EDI and the Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan

UCalgary is responsible for recognizing the importance of EDI in our policies and practices as stated in the Agreement on the Administration of Agency Grants and Awards by Research Institutions

The Agencies will continue to collaborate with external stakeholders, and defer to the relevant administering institution’s policies and practices, to ensure that appropriate considerations are applied to support EDI in Tri-Agency grant funding (April 2020).

Frequently Asked Questions

As of April 1, 2020, expenditures for all active tri-agency grants will be reviewed using the new guidelines. 

 

The expense submission process has not changed. The review of expenses will be done in accordance with TAGFA. 

According to the Tri-agencies: "An expense is deemed 'effective and economical' when it achieves the intended outcome with due regard for minimizing cost by avoiding unnecessary expense. This means the expenditure is considered an optimal use of the funds, which may not necessarily mean the “lowest cost.”

For example, an unnecessary expense may occur when an item or service, no matter how cheap or expensive, is ineffective in achieving the intended outcome (i.e., it ends up creating undue burden on the funded activities by causing research delays, additional expenses, lost time and/or effort due to overly burdensome administration, etc.)."

To prove cost effectiveness, a screenshot of comparisons made for the expenses will be acceptable. Examples are hotel and flight vs direct flight cost; or luggage fees, seat selection and economy flight vs cost of upgraded economy fare.

The concept of personal gain refers to using grant funds to serve an individual’s interests or attain a personal advantage and/or profit that outweighs the benefit to the grant-funded research/activities.

Examples include:

  • Grant recipient wants to use his/her own personal company to translate documents from the research or provide interpretation of results and bill for his/her own service fees  
  • Pet kenneling fees for the researcher’s dog, while s/he went on a conference
  • Researcher submitting expenses for rainwear necessary for their family member to visit the research project site
  • Alcohol and pay-per-view movies included in the hotel receipts while on business trip 

If an item or service that was an eligible expense in the previous Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide and the item or service respects the four key principles and the directives as outlined in TAGFA, the expense would continue to be an appropriate use of grant funds (i.e., eligible).

The directive on Travel and Travel-Related Subsistence Expenditures continues to require the (1) affiliation of traveler(s) with the funded research/activities and that (2) the grant-related purpose for the travel must be clear.  As such, these information are still required when submitting the travel related claims.  These remain as mandatory fields when completing the online expense claims in PeopleSoft.  

There will be no changes on the level of supplies and equipment that the University will provide to their staff.  If office supplies and cleaning supplies used to be covered by the faculty or department, they will continue to be provided to staff as usual. 

For future dated travel $10,000 or more and occurring in the next fiscal year (April onwards) these items will be classified as Prepaid Expenses under the traveler’s name. The prepaid expense will be cleared by submitting proof of travel or receipts confirming that travel has taken place. 

For future dated travel less than $10,000 and occurring in the same fiscal year, they will be booked as current fiscal year expenses against the project and will need to be supported by proof of payment and other applicable receipts or documents supporting the booking.    

Travel expenses and expenses in the context of assemblies or gatherings that facilitate and contribute to achieving the research objectives incurred by individuals who are directly working on the research project are eligible. The information regarding purpose of the travel / conference and the affiliation of the traveler to the research project must be provided when the claim is submitted for reimbursement.

Air travel charged to Tri Council grants is not restricted to economy class anymore. If booking a higher class or a direct flight will be more cost effective and economical for the research project, then the charge will be allowed. Accordingly, business class flights must strictly follow the UCalgary requirements for business class travel. 

The time and cost limits for hiring/paying postdocs, graduate students and visiting researchers have been removed in the new guide effective April 1, 2020. The university guidelines will have to be followed when paying these individuals. 

Paying Postdocs: https://research.ucalgary.ca/postdocs/postdoc-guidelines

Paying Graduate Students: https://grad.ucalgary.ca/awards/award-guide/step-1-applying/eligibility

Paying Undergraduate Students:

https://live-ucalgary.ucalgary.ca/registrar/finances/awards-scholarships-and-bursaries/eligibility

https://live-ucalgary.ucalgary.ca/registrar/finances/awards-scholarships-and-bursaries/receiving-payment

Gifts that are provided as a token of appreciation, respect and/or goodwill given as a formal courtesy and when prescribed by cultural heritage or established traditions are eligible costs. The annual maximum threshold for gifts per individual is $500. Anything over $500 will have tax implications and will be reported on a tax slip.

The costs associated with regulatory compliance to federal, provincial or municipal regulations and by-laws that are required to conduct the research will be eligible costs.

There will be no changes on the level of supplies and equipment that the University will provide to their staff.  If computer and monitors used to be provided by the faculty or department, they will continue to be provided to staff as usual. 

There will be no change on how lost receipts will be handled. The maximum amount that the University may reimburse for an expense that is not supported by detailed receipt(s) and proof of payment is $CAD 100.  The lost receipt box must be checked on the PeopleSoft expense claim when submitting expenses that are not supported by receipts.

You can review TAGFA in its entirety on the Tri-Agency Financial Administration website, as well as review FAQs and background information on the updates.

 

The directive on Travel and Travel-Related Subsistence Expenditures requires that expenditures must be authorized by the right level of authority. At UCalgary, the expense claim is automatically routed to the applicable one-up approver of the claimant who could be the department head or the dean.  For travel expenses of non-employees, the electronic/online routing is not yet in place so we have to receive manual/written approval from Department Head or Dean (as applicable) by email. 

Please contact the Integrated Service Centre.

Phone: 402-220-8800

Email: rtahelp@ucalgary.ca

Updated May 19, 2020

Computer Hardware: Incremental costs for computer hardware and printers required for the continuation of research may be eligible provided they meet the four principles. It is recommended that PER funds be used prior to the use of Tri-Agency funds. If equipment is purchased using Tri-Agency funds, ownership of the equipment belongs to the University of Calgary.

Office furniture: While working from home, some individuals will have access to office furniture while others may be required to work from other surfaces or tables. It is recognized that the workspace at home will not be the same as the workspace on campus.

In cases where individuals do not have access to a surface with which to work from, the purchase of office desks or chairs may be eligible provided they meet the four principles. These funds are not intended to provide the same level of office furnishing to match that of the offices on campus and that these items are meant to be a temporary solution until campus reopens. If office furniture is purchased using Tri-Agency funds, ownership of the furniture belongs to the University of Calgary.

Updated May 19, 2020

Incremental internet costs due to the need to increase internet capacity in order to continue research activities may be eligible provided they meet the four principles. It is recommended that PER funds be used prior to the use of Tri-Agency funds.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) are not provided by the University. The purchase of PPEs by grant recipients to ensure the safety of their research team members and the continuation of the grant research/activities may be an appropriate use of grant funds; if the expenditures meet the Goods and Services expenditures directive and are procured and paid/reimbursed in accordance with the administering institution’s policies and processes.

At this time, disinfectant wipes are currently provided to University labs and offices so these will not be eligible to be charged to Tri-Agency projects.

The University (through Staff Wellness) is currently working with Department Heads to provide hand sanitizers to each employee in their areas. Each employee within the department is entitled to one 500mL bottle of hand sanitizer. Departments are responsible for distributing the hand sanitizer provided to their employees. 

As such, hand sanitizers will not be an eligible expenditure for Tri-Agency projects while this allocation is available. Please contact your Department Head to arrange receiving hand sanitizer from Staff Wellness.

Only when these University provided hand sanitizers have been used up, the purchase of hand sanitizers may be an appropriate use of grant funds if the expenditures meet the Goods and Services expenditures directive and are procured and paid/reimbursed in accordance with the University of Calgary’s policies and processes.   

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Contact

If you have questions about the new guidelines or require additional assistance submitting expenses, please contact the Integrated Service Centre.

403-220-8800

rtahelp@ucalgary.ca