University of Pittsburgh

Agreements for Goods or Services under External or University-funded Research

 Which University Office to Approach for Assistance



Under federal grants there are different administrative and audit requirements for subrecipients (financial assistance) and suppliers (procurement actions).  Because of these differences, University agreements must be funneled to and administered by either the Office of Research or the Purchasing Services Department.  Determining which of these two offices should handle the agreements is sometimes difficult. 

Office of Research or Purchasing Services Department


Along with several other duties, the Office of Research is authorized to enter into agreements with subrecipients, for example, other institutions of higher education.  In contrast, the Purchasing Services Department is able to manage the procurement process with suppliers / vendors. The information on the following pages should help clarify the terms “subrecipient” and “supplier” or “vendor” and thus provide direction regarding which office handles each type of agreement.

Subrecipient or Supplier / Vendor


The United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-133 attempts to distinguish between subrecipients and suppliers (vendors), thus  A-133 §_201(d) states that:

In making the determination of whether a subrecipient or vendor relationship exists, the substance of the relationship is more important than the form of the agreement.


Office of Research versus Purchasing Services Department

Differences Between Subrecipients and Suppliers / Vendors


Office of Research – manages agreements with subrecipients

Purchasing Services Department – manages agreements with suppliers / vendors

OMB Circular A-133 §_210(b)(2-5) describes a subrecipient as one that:

OMB Circular A-133 §_210(c) describes a supplier or vendor as one that:

Has its performance measured against whether the objectives of the federal program are met

Provides goods and services within normal business operations         

Has responsibility for programmatic decision making

Provides similar goods and services to many different purchasers

Has responsibility for adherence to applicable federal program compliance requirements

Operates in a competitive environment

Uses the federal funds to carry out a program of the organization as compared to providing goods and services for a program of the pass-through entity.

Provides goods or services that are ancillary to the operation of the federal program and

Is not subject to compliance requirements of the federal program.

The Federal Demonstration Project’s Subaward Task Force in its “FDP Statement on Subawards” as revised on September 18, 2000 states that:

Subawards may be called subcontracts, subagreements, purchase orders, subgrants, etc., and they may also have the appearance of procurement agreements in format and language, but they nonetheless remain forms of “financial assistance” and do not constitute what (OMB Circular) A-110 describes as a “procurement action”.  Thus their issuance is not subject to the procurement standards specified in Sections 40 – 48 of A-110.

Requirements for Suppliers / Vendors


2 CFR Part 215 (formerly OMB Circular A-110) explains, among many other things, the procurement requirements for institutions of higher education receiving federal grants (financial assistance).   §215.41 through §215.48 explain:

(1) The recipient’s (University’s) responsibilities;

(2) That codes of conduct must be written and cover individuals involved in purchases;

(3) The requirement for free and open competition;

(4) The need to have written procurement procedures that ensure that the University:

  • does not purchase unnecessary items;

  • analyzes a purchase versus a lease;

  • issues quality requests for proposal;

  • makes efforts to purchase from small businesses, minority firms and women-owned businesses;

  • chooses the appropriate type of contract vehicle; and

  • contracts for goods and services with responsible persons or organizations that are not debarred or suspended from doing business with the Federal government.

(5) the requirement to document cost or price analysis for each procurement action;

(6) the need to keep accurate records that include the basis for the supplier selection,  justification for any lack of competition and the basis of the award cost or price;

(7) that the University must have a system of contract administration; and

(8) what provisions should be inserted into the University’s agreements with its suppliers.


Checklist to Determine Which Office to Approach for Assistance - Office of Research or Purchasing Services


On the following page you will find a series of questions that coupled with the information and definitions above will help University departments determine which office to contact for assistance with University agreements.  Please keep in mind that while the questions may initially indicate one office rather than another, after the agreement is reviewed one or both of the offices may determine that the transaction is handled more appropriately in the other office.



Copyright© 2003 - Financial Information Systems
Updated: 07/17/2009


University of Pittsburgh Contact Us Pitt Main Search