Grant Writing

What is the Difference Between a Grant Consultant vs. Contractor? Does it Really Matter?

It is easy to become confused and lost in the jargon associated with your grant funding application or proposal. One of the places may people get confused is when to classify a collaborator as a consultant or a contractor. As Principal Investigator, you must carefully consider the role of this team member and understand the consequences of your decision to list them as either consultant or contractor.

  • Consultant (Stakeholder) VS.  Contractor (Key Stakeholder)
    • Contribution:
      • Consultant: narrowly defined and sometimes sporadic, consultant speaks with PI when needed.
      • Contractor: Substantial and ongoing; without the subcontractor the project would not be completed
    • Payment:
      • Consultant: usually a flat fee
      • Contractor: percentage of effort for personnel, plus other items as needed, plus indirect costs
    • Pre-Award Paperwork:
      • Consultant: usually only a biosketch and letter of support required, institutional sign off is not usually required* (*These items vary from place to place. Investigators are expected to understand and comply with the policies of their own organizations.)
      • Contractor: institutional signoff required
    • Post-Award Agreement:
      • Consultant: consulting or research services agreement; provides a fee for a defined service, with minimal institutional commitment, may be established with an individual* (*These items vary from place to place. Investigators are expected to understand and comply with the policies of their own organizations. )
      • Contractor: imposes the same conditions on the subcontractor as the prime awardee.
  • Who decides consultant vs. contractor? The overall PI makes the final decision about whether a given researcher should be a consultant or a subcontractor. The main consideration should be the scope and importance of that person’s contribution to the project.
  • Other considerations may arise:
    • The desire to add a publication or two to a CV.
    • The desire to avoid paperwork, especially for proposals that are being prepared on a tight deadline.
    • The desire to have a high-profile researcher as a co-investigator.
    • The desire to reduce costs.
  • Unintended consequences of naming someone as a subcontractor who should be a consultant:
    • Permission must be obtained from the NIH to replace any key personnel.  If a grant has a long lifecycle and a large number of subcontractors and Co-Is, the likelihood increases that we will have to seek this permission.
    • A high-profile researcher may not have even 1% or 5% effort available to commit. Reviewers, who are familiar with the relevant field and its leading figures, may be aware of this and skeptical that the researcher in question is going to make a substantial contribution.

Further Reading

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