research efforts can suffer when researchers don't include building
administrative costs in their proposals.
a day goes by that those of us in research administration don't
receive a request from a faculty member to waive the overhead
on a grant or contract proposal. The reason: They believe it will increase
their chances of getting grants. In most cases we say no
to these requests, but not because we're bad guys. Unless it is
specifically spelled out in the evaluation criterion, overhead costs
are not considered in the proposal evaluation. And furthermore, most
federal, state, and private for-profit organizations will pay for the
researcher's indirect costs. It's important for researchers
to collect those costs whenever possible, and for them to know that
factoring the money into their proposals won't lessen their chances
of getting the funding.
understand direct costs (salaries, travel, supplies, equipment). But
what is overhead? Facility and administrative (F & A)
costs (formerly called indirect or overhead) are real costs that cannot
be easily or specifically associated with a particular project. They
include charges for lab and office space, building maintenance, heat,
light, and power, and the use of university facilities/services and
support staff, including secretarial, library, insurance, and accounting.
Thus the total cost of a project includes both direct and overhead costs.
are unwilling to pay the full F & A, or in some cases, won't
compensate for any overhead. Others limit the recovered F & A, believing
the university should cost share some of the expenses. This
is particularly true of nonprofit organizations. But most for-profits
pay the full F & A plus a fee, including it in the contract. Full
F & A costs typically run between 40 percent and 70 percent of the
direct costs. The F & A rate is determined by ratioing the cost
of facilities and administration to the direct project costs. Institutions
generally have different F & A rates for different activities, such
as research and training. Universities typically recover only about
half of what they could recover at the full F & A rate. This is
mostly due to waivers of indirect costs, both required and not required.
university isn't reimbursed for F & A costs, then it has to
pay them out of its own funds. But collecting this money is not just
beneficial to the university. Most institutions provide program
development fundssometimes under a similar-sounding nameto
faculty, departments, and colleges that are directly tied to F &
A cost recoveries. These funds are usually directed to research program
development to encourage further research activities. These funds are
not an indirect return but are tied to it. They are another
reason why you as researchers should try to collect all the F &
A costs available since the result is usually money in your pocketwhich
you can use to support and develop your research.
tend to think that overhead costs don't apply directly to them.
They believe they can get more money by not factoring them in, and that
nobody gets hurt. However, F & A costs are significant and necessary
to both you and your university. They can provide a direct reward to
you and your research. If we don't collect them, we lose an opportunity
to support research.
quit beating up on your research administration organization. They are
really trying to help you and your institution.
M. Owens, is vice president of research at Boise State University.
He can be reached at email@example.com.