Budget Terminology

The purpose of this page is to give a working definition of budget terms that turn up in pre- and post-award administration. These are not the "legal" definition! If there are terms you would like to suggest adding or if a link to the "legal" definition would be helpful, please send an email to Heather Offhaus.

Sponsored Research v. Gifts:
One of the key distinctions between the two is that sponsored research is auditable. In exchange for the money sent to you to do research, the sponsor expects it to be used for a particular project with certain restrictions on spending, a financial report due, services in return, or some auditable promises were made from the university.  A gift is a voluntary transfer of money or material goods from an individual or entity to the University without a return of commensurate value. Gift funds may be dedicated to general research areas, but are made with no specific performance outcomes or performance period.  Typically a gift is irrevocable. There is no expectation that funds will be returned if project or sponsored activity is not completed within a specific performance period.  Sponsored research can be broken down into several categories such as grants, contracts, clinical trials, material transfers, and other funded activity.

Uniform guidance:
This is a term for certain budget items. The Office of Management and Budget (Federal Government) publishes rules and conditions for use of federal moneys. One of their circulars was numbered A-21 and it directly impacts institutions of higher education that conduct research. In it, they spell out that certain costs cannot be charged to a grant unless they are specific to the project. Most of the components are costs that would normally be covered under the Administrative portion of the F&A rate (see below.) For instance, if you want to charge a sum of money to a grant for copying charges, it has to be justified in the application as project specific (i.e. why do you need it?) for it to be allowable (Copy charges are requested to cover disseminating data results to the 3 subcontract sites). If it is not justified and approved, the charges cannot hit a federal account. This applies mainly to federal proposals. 

Conflict of Interest (COI):
Many institutions now ask you to declare long before award if you will or will not have a conflict of interest. At UM it is the following statement (Yes/No): Do the Project Investigator, Participating Investigators, or other key investigators has significant financial or management interest in the proposed project that may constitute the basis for a conflict of interest? 

Cost Accounting Standards:
Although many issues are involved, the basic ideas are that all sponsors should 1) be treated equally and 2) be able to audit for university support "promised" in a proposal. The first of the two basically means that the government wants us to be consistent in how we account for items. If someone non-federal gets a "break" for something, in the same way the government should get that break. Whether it be an indirect cost rate, how we charge out salaries, or allowable costs on grants. Conversely, if the government guidelines limit us, we should also be limiting what we charge other sponsors. So, A-21 items, although a government requirement, should be a non-federal guideline. This isn't to say that you cannot charge certain A-21 costs to a proposal, but should try to be consistent on the allowable charges. The term most synonymous with Cost Accounting Standards might be consistency. 

Cost Sharing:
This easily could be also termed Resource Sharing. Any time we commit effort, supplies, space or other item to a sponsor as indication of support for the project within the university, we have to account for how that commitment will be matched. If you represent that a faculty member will be on a grant with 10% effort, it is assumed that the agency awarded the project taking that into consideration. At any time they can come and ask us if the resource (in this case salary) is being provided and audit us for this cost. At UM it is extremely important to account for where that support will come from before submission of a sponsored research project. There are two types of cost sharing. The definitions vary from institution to institution, but UM has a fairly mainstream understanding. 

Mandatory Cost Sharing:
Any time the resource is quantifiable, it is considered mandatory (and auditable.) This would be an effort level (which is translatable into dollars), a specific amount for a piece of equipment or supply, or anything else you can put in terms of dollars.  

Voluntary Cost Sharing:
This consists of things that are non-quantifiable. This may be a statement in the justification that says: "The PI will provide other necessary supplies to this project." or "The tuition will be paid from departmental funds." Another instance is when the sponsor imposes a limit. The NIH salary cap is congressionally set. Any time a person's academic base exceeds that amount, the department has to voluntarily cost share the amount over the imposed cap. (Current cap is available here). 

Direct Costs:
These are the dollars directly associated with research investigations. It could be professional salary, travel, consulting fees, or equipment (among others). The cost must have a direct benefit to the project. 

Indirect Costs (or Overhead or Facilities and Administrative Costs (F&A)):
These are what in the business world would be considered overhead. Facilities charges include lights, water, electricity, network hook-ups for the computer, telephone lines. A good rule of thumb is anything behind the wall. Administrative costs are secretarial support, general office supplies, and the cost of people that administer sponsored projects. Basically anything "common" that does not directly benefit a specific project. 

Research Participation:
There are several different titles of those who participate on a project. In many cases they are different shades of gray.  

Project Director - The person who meets the eligibility requirements of the university and is responsible for the academic and budgetary performance.  

Principal Investigator - The person who meets the eligibility requirements of the sponsor and is responsible for the academic and budgetary performance (usually the same person). 

Co-Investigator - The NIH defines this as people who contribute significantly to the scientific progress of the proposal.

Collaborators and Consultants - These terms are fairly interchangeable? The only distinction that has been explained is that Collaborators tend to be those who work in the field of the research and are willing to offer advice and consultation on the direction of the project. Consultants then would be outside the PI's realm of expertise that are willing to advise from a different professional perspective. Then again, the definitions have also been flipped. 

Subcontracts:
This is an agreement between another site (corporation, university, hospital) and the parent institution submitting the proposal to perform a component of the research. It is a subcontract if the site’s work involves specific people who impact the course of research. They would be subject to their own internal cost structures. Sometimes the term is confused with contracted services.