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Chapter Four discusses Principal Investigator eligibility through the following sections:

  • Principal Investigator overview
  • Smithsonian relationships
  • Conflicts of interest


The Principal Investigator is the individual responsible for conceiving and directing a sponsored project. The terms "Principal Investigator," "Responsible Investigator," "Project Director," and "Program Director" refer to that individual. When this individual takes on the task of preparing a proposal for submission to an outside source, he or she agrees to manage the ensuing grant or contract in compliance with the terms, conditions, procedures, and policies of the sponsor and the Smithsonian. The Principal Investigator accepts full and final responsibility for ensuring that the project is accomplished using "all reasonable best efforts," and that all reports are submitted in a timely manner.

To permit clear lines of responsibility for project management, only one Principal Investigator is named. While Co-Principal Investigators may also be named, the Principal Investigator holds overall responsibility for the sponsored project. Generally, the Smithsonian does not permit submission of a proposal in the name of a "nominal" Principal Investigator who then delegates primary responsibility to another individual.


Because the Smithsonian is required to comply with many contractual terms and conditions of a financial, administrative, and programmatic nature, an employer-employee relationship or an affiliation must exist between the Smithsonian and the Principal Investigator.


Any Smithsonian employee may be a Principal Investigator with his/her unit or office approval.

Affiliated Individuals

The following categories of individuals, as described in Smithsonian Directive (SD) 205 maintain affiliations with the Smithsonian for limited time periods:

  • Research Fellows
  • Research Associates

Research Fellows

Smithsonian Fellows are permitted to serve as Co-Principal Investigators on sponsored projects as long as an employee of the Smithsonian, who acts as scientific advisor to the Fellow, is named as Principal Investigator. Smithsonian Fellows are encouraged to seek financial support for their project costs, including travel, equipment, and supplies, but are not allowed to receive compensation beyond the Fellowship stipends provided by Smithsonian funds. A Fellow whose stipend is coming to an end may request status as a Research Associate and then include his or her salary costs in a grant proposal. More information can be obtained at the Office of Fellowships.

Research Associates

The prestigious appointment of Smithsonian Research Associate should be highly selective and restricted so that the expectation of distinguished contribution to the Institution will be apparent. The title may be assigned to individuals who have demonstrated ability to perform research of the highest quality, and who actively participate in the advancement of the Smithsonian and its goals. The title may be conferred upon an employee of a cooperating Federal or state agency that has been assigned to work at the Smithsonian, or the title may be conferred upon persons with or without other affiliations. The unit director will make the appointment for a term of three years.
While Research Associates are eligible to seek support as Principal Investigators, they are not authorized to commit Smithsonian resources until receiving a specific delegation of authority to do so. Therefore, Research Associates are required to submit to OSP a copy of their delegation at award commencement. Refer to SI 205 for further details.


Conflicts of interest arise when employees use, or appear to use, their positions with the Smithsonian for private gain at the expense of the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian standards of conduct, as outlined in SD 103, clarify these issues.

Employees must avoid any action that might result in, or create the appearance of the following:

  • Using Smithsonian employment for private gain
  • Giving preferential treatment to any person
  • Losing complete independence or impartiality of action
  • Affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of the Smithsonian

Questions regarding clarification of the above or SD 103 should be directed to the Office of General counsel.

In the event that a conflict of interest situation arises on a sponsored project activity and the sponsor must be advised of this conflict, the Office of Sponsored Projects will notify the sponsor. Prior to sponsor notification, OSP will consult with, in addition to the Principal Investigator, the appropriate Smithsonian offices and individuals.