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Defining a Subaward

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What is a Subaward?

A subaward is when a portion of Stanford's sponsored project is passed through to another entity in order to complete a portion of the sponsored project's scope of work. It does not include payments to a contractor or payments to an individual that is a beneficiary of a program.

A subaward agreement is formal written contract made between Stanford University and another institution or organization to perform an intellectually significant portion of Stanford’s SOW (Statement of Work) under a Stanford sponsored project. The What Makes a Good Statement of Work Tool may be consulted when developing or reviewing the subrecipient Statement of Work.

A subaward must include a clearly defined, intellectually significant SOW to be performed by the subrecipient's personnel, using its own facilities and resources. The subrecipient takes full responsibility for adhering to the terms and conditions of the subaward including those flowed down from Stanford's sponsor, and assumes creative and intellectual responsibility and leadership as well as financial management for performing and fulfilling the subrecipient's SOW within the subrecipient's approved budget.

A subaward SOW may include fabrication of specialized equipment to be used for the Stanford sponsored research project as a project related asset or as a deliverable to the sponsor.

Subawards differ from procurement contracts used to acquire goods or services from vendors.

Distinguishing Between a Subaward and a Procurement Action 

The agreement is likely a subaward if you can answer “yes” to the following questions (should meet most criteria below):

  • Is the Scope of Work of assigned to the entity intellectually significant? (as opposed to executing something designed or directed by Stanford)
  • Will the entity’s performance be measured against whether the objectives of the sponsored program are met? (The work should directly support the objectives of the sponsored project SOW)
  • Does the Subrecipient have responsibility for programmatic decision-making? (The entity is responsible for independently making decisions that support the objectives of the SOW)
  • Will the Subrecipient assume responsibility for adherence to applicable sponsor program compliance requirements? (Subawards are subject to more stringent compliance and contractual requirements than procurement/consulting arrangements)
  • Is the work being performed significant to the objectives of the project?
  • Could the entity’s work result in intellectual property development or publishable results (including co-authorship)?

The agreement is likely a procurement action if you can answer “yes” to the following questions:

  • Does the entity provide the goods and services within its normal business operations? (This is something they do for everyone)
  • Does the entity provide similar goods or services to many different purchasers?
  • Does the entity operate in a competitive environment?
  • Will the entity provide goods or services that are ancillary to the operation of Stanford's sponsored project?
  • Will Stanford own the work product of the entity?
  • Will the entity be carrying out the work at the instruction of Stanford? (E.G. administering surveys created by Stanford or collecting data for Stanford to analyze)
  • Does the entity not have the infrastructure to comply with direct requirements of Stanford's sponsor?

Subaward vs. Consultant

The difference between a consultant and a subrecipient typically comes down to who is going to own the work. While the work of a consultant may be intellectually significant, if Stanford is going to own what the entity/individual produces, then it is likely a consulting arrangement. Also, as subawards cannot be between Stanford and an individual (as opposed to an entity), any arrangement with an individual would be consulting rather than a subaward.