Help Reduce Administrative Burden and Costs


This is your chance to have input on an important issue that greatly impacts the research community each and every day. Today, on behalf of the A-21 Task Force that reports to the Research Business Models Working Group, we released a request for information regarding revisions to the current OMB Circular A-21. This document, the Cost Principles for Educational Institutions, guides universities in determining what can and cannot be charged to federal grants and contracts. We are requesting information on opportunities for revisions that promise to reduce administrative burden or costs associated with compliance requirements of this circular and other requirements associated with federal support of research.

Representatives from multiple federal agencies, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will review the potential revisions. Several suggested areas that have potential to reduce burden have been identified for consideration within the request for information. You can see the list in the notice. Improvements to additional areas will also be considered. We are interested in hearing about A-21 issues that impact institutions, but also are particularly interested in how A-21 impacts the conduct of research by the scientist in his or her lab.

If you would like to submit a potential revision or comment, please use this website. Responses will be accepted through July 28, 2011, and a summary of the responses will be available by September 2011. More information is available in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. If you have questions about this request for information, send us an e-mail.


  1. It is the increasing frequency and short deadlines for technical and financial reports rather than chargeable costs that are adding to the expense of research. The University of Minnesota financial system has complete monthly results available no later than the 10th of the month following. Asking for financial reports by the 5th results in extra work. Technical reports including operating statistics require that the electronic results be tweaked into multiple formats to meet the differing study requirements. Requiring technical reports by the 5th also creates extra work.
    Do we really need monthly financial reports on multimillion dollar 5+ year contracts and grants? Managing finances quarterly seems sufficient.

  2. I agreee entirely. It’s the time spent on reporting rather than chargeable costs that is the real burden.

  3. Increasingly admin support from our school is going down, but the Indirect (Admin) cost keeps going up. Currently our IDC rate is approx. 63%. I don’t know what service I get from our administration to account for such a hefty sum. Worse yet, if I am to get get $1, uncle Sam has to cough up $1.63. If this cost can be reduced significantly the money-saved can be used to fund more grants. Many agencies offer much lower IDC rate. I haven’t heard that any grant has been rejected due to lower IDC rate.

  4. Scientific research in universities is not a business and thus should not be considered under the rubric of “business models”. There is no profit to be made. There are no “deliverables” other than new knowledge. In the best cases, the new knowledge delivered is unexpected and was not predicted with specificity in the original grant proposal. In these best cases, we have actually learned something new.
    The process of research is an arduous one of interacting with hard won data over a period of months and sometimes years. It requires both great concentration and considerable imagination. Quarterly or even semi-yearly reports only frustrate the process because they are time consuming and completely non-productive. Program officers know that they can expect to get a sense of progress, or lack thereof, only year by year.
    The best thing that NIH could do, as a start, would be to forbid the use of “business models” in research administration because they literally destroy creativity.

  5. One of the most challenging administrative tasks for a PI is collecting all the Biographical Sketches of co-investigators. Although the Sketches are now shorter, they now, more than in the past, are required to be tailored to each grant; thus, there is no longer such a thing as “a” NIH biographical sketch that can be kept “up to date” and used for multiple submissions.
    What are the key elements that grant reviewers are looking for in the Sketch? If it is the training and publication record of investigators, a repository of complete CVs, perhaps updated yearly, might better suit that purpose. If it is current and past grant support, then this could be confined to non-governmental support, because the governmental support is generally readily available electronically. If it is role and special expertise for the project, then this could go back to a separate section of the grant (not ideally tied to the budget as in the past).

    1. We will be exploring many of the issues around the development of biosketches as we look into creating fed-wide researcher profiles. You can find out more about this project in Sally’s recent blog post.

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