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Job Title:
Contracting Officer (Supervisor Research Services), IS-1102, Grade 14; $130,929 - $170,205 per year
Type of Position:
Trust Fund (non-federal) Indefinite
Job Location:
Cambridge, MA
Posting Opening Date:
Posting Closing Date:


AREA OF CONSIDERATION: This position is open to all eligible candidates.

Note: Position is open until filled. The new department name is Research Administration Services.

*Consideration may be made after November 29, 2023.


The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is at the forefront, internationally, of the scientific exploration of the universe. Its programs range from ground-based astronomy and astrophysics research to space-based research, the engineering and development of major scientific instrumentation for space launch and use in large ground-based facilities, and research designed to improve science education. The research objectives of SAO are carried out primarily with the support of Government and Smithsonian Institution funds, with additional philanthropic support.  Government funds are in the form of Federal appropriations or the form of contracts and grants from other agencies. In contrast, Institution funds are available to SAO through grants from the Institution's Restricted Funds, Special Purpose Funds, Bureau Activities, Business Activities, and non-Federal contracts and grants.

SUMMARY:  The Research Administrative Services lead oversees a multifaceted office, with primary responsibility for ensuring the proper administration of the SAO-sponsored research activity. The Incumbent is responsible for the management and overall operation of all aspects of research administration at SAO research including 1) the submission and administration of sponsored awards; 2) compliance; 3) cost analysis; 4) subawards administration; and 5) external relations.  The individual is also responsible for overseeing the execution, administration, and closeout of Chandra XRay Center [CXC] scientific observing and Einstein postdoctoral fellowship subgrants on behalf of NASA.

Reporting to the Chief Operations Officer, the incumbent of the position is delegated (1) unlimited signatory authority from the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution to receive and execute all incoming awards from other organizations for performance at SAO and (2) unlimited authority from the Director of the Office of Contracting and Personal Property Management at SI for planning and executing contracting; and subcontracting at SAO including interpreting, extending, originating, or devising· new contractual and sub-contractual provisions, incentives, clauses, terms, and conditions.


  • Oversee a staff of ten professionals responsible for developing, submitting, and overseeing sponsored awards at SAO, including more than 200 proposals worth over $90M in annual research expenditures.·        
  • Oversee research proposal development by proactively seeking and disseminating information about potential funding opportunities from various sources, including government agencies, foundations, and industry partners.
  • Responsible for pre-award sponsored program functions at SAO, including coordination, review, and submission of all proposals to a variety of sponsors, e.g., Federal government agencies, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, private foundations, and for-profit companies.
  • Responsible for post-award sponsored program functions at SAO, monitoring of grant budgets, providing projections, and providing faculty with account information and requests. The grant administrator will review account setups, request no-cost extensions, and provide budget information.
  • Oversee the administration, and closeout of contracts, grants, cooperative agreements, and other awards from SAO's sponsors, including working with the business operations team to process journal vouchers for grant closeouts, verify expenses for invoicing purposes, request sponsor invoices, and process stipend payments.
  • Ensuring that management and administration of sub-awards involving funds from incoming contracts and grants complies with applicable SI procurement policies and procedures and the delegation of procurement authority issued by the Director, Office of Contracting and Personal Property Management (SI OCon&PPM);
  •  Oversee staff responsible for distributing contracts and grant awards in the Smithsonian financial system.
  • Oversee staff responsible for posting internal advance budgets (i.e., spending authority) (Funds 802 and 803).
  • Monitor the accounts and records necessary to administer Government financially and non-government contracts and grants and the revenues and expenses associated with awards, including issuing sponsor-required financial reports and invoices and completing financial close-out procedures;
  • Establish procedures for reviewing accounting data to ensure compliance with sponsor requirements and collaboration with fund administrators to manage financial resources with the award agreement (Funds 802 and 803);
  • Oversee the staff member responsible for export compliance at SAO, ensuring that SAO complies with the applicable export control laws and regulations that pertain to the conduct of its research and other activities, including the Export Administration Regulations [EAR], International Traffic in Arms Regulations [ITAR], and the Foreign Trade Regulations [FTR].
  • Help researchers refine the nontechnical aspects of their proposals to improve their chances of success by providing training on grant writing and offering editing support.

Supervisory and Other Duties

  •  Provides overall human resources management to staff in the section, including interviewing and hiring new team members; determining training needs and arranging for training as appropriate by planning and assigning work, setting priorities, establishing deadlines, providing follow-up, supervising day-to-day awards activities, developing performance standards; reviewing performance (probationary and annual); recommending performance awards; recommending and taking necessary disciplinary action; giving advice, counsel, and instruction to team members; and approving leave.
  • Oversees preparation and dissemination of guidance material to all key SAO personnel to inform, clarify, and explain significant regulatory requirements, policies, procedures, and associated changes.
  • Responsible for coordinating with appropriate SAO and SI departments on enhancements to and operation of the systems and processes within their domain.
  • Maintain communications with all Division Administrators, Program Managers, and Department Leaders within SAO regarding their satisfaction with Research Administration Services.
  • Provide expertise to the SAO Executive Leadership team in developing policies and procedures governing our sponsored research enterprise.
  • Provide training to administrative and scientific colleagues in multiple formats, from one-on-one training to classroom settings.
  • Set schedules for accomplishing duties discussed above and ensure all stakeholders are aware of the schedule of activities, following up as needed to ensure decision makers' availability and providing ample time for internal reviews and input.
  • Performs other duties as assigned.


  1. Completion of all mandatory training prescribed by the head of the agency for progression to grade 13 or higher-level contracting positions, including at least 4 years of experience in contracting or related positions. At least 1 year of that experience must have been specialized experience at or equivalent to work at the grade 13 level, and must have provided the knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully perform the work of the position as described below.


  1. A 4-year course of study leading to a bachelor's degree, that included or was supplemented by at least 24 semester hours in any combination of the following fields: accounting, business, finance, law, contracts, purchasing, economics, industrial management, marketing, quantitative methods, or organization and management.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities required:

  • Comprehensive knowledge of contracting and subcontracting laws, principles, and regulations tailored to SAO's critical systems and programs, focusing on unique scientific instrumentation for national/international space programs and advanced ground-based astronomical telescope systems.
  • Knowledge of federal regulations and agency policies governing grant and contract administration.
  • Extensive experience in proposal and budget preparation, including the use of electronic systems for proposal submission and research administration, including
  • In-depth expertise in procurement regulations, intricate knowledge of systems acquisition processes, technical program management, and cost accounting.
  • Knowledge of various contract types, methods, and selection factors to strategically procure complex requirements during pre-award and post-award phases.
  • Mastery of negotiation techniques, leading pre-negotiation strategies, conducting system acquisition negotiations, and directing post-award contract modifications.
  • Understanding SAO’s program objectives, technical jargon, and procurement specifics.
  • Knowledge of financial management methods to assess contractor and subcontractor compliance and performance.
  • Exceptional verbal and written communication abilities necessary for drafting guidelines, representing the department, and conducting training.
  • Analytical skills refined to assess audit reports, regulations, and other materials to devise departmental procedures.
  • Ability to efficiently supervise, motivate, and oversee the work of assigned personnel.
  • Ability to prioritize, delegate tasks, and deliver timely results in a deadline-driven environment.
  • Demonstrated ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with employees and program officials at all levels within SAO, with contacts at SI, contractors, and government agencies.

APPLICATION PROCEDURE:  We are only accepting applications online for this position. To apply please submit your resume and cover letter detailing how you meet the requirements of the position at:

Conditions of Employment

  • Successful completion of pre- and post-employment background investigation.
  • May be required to serve a one-year probationary period.
  • Direct Deposit/Elect Funds Transfer required for salary payment.
  • Required to file a Confidential Statement of Employment form, Sl-1085.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is an equal opportunity employer committed to diversity in our workplace.

Learn more about SAO Human Resources

Visit the SAO website