OMB Asks for Comments on Potential Reforms to Federal Grant Policies


The Office of Management and Budget just published a notice in the Federal Register asking for public comment on potential reforms to federal grant policies contained in OMB circulars such as A-21, A-133, and A-122. These include ideas that would standardize information collection across agencies, adopt a risk-based model for single audits, and provide new administrative approaches for determining and monitoring the allocation of federal funds. These ideas reflect the input of a number of groups that have been considering these issues over the past few months, including the A-21 Task Force, which I have mentioned here before.

I encourage you to read the notice in full. To give you an idea of the scope of the proposed reform, here are some of the ideas discussed:

  • Exploring alternatives to time-and-effort reporting requirements for salaries and wages
  • Charging directly allocable administrative support as a direct cost
  • Including the cost of certain computing devices as allowable direct cost supplies
  • Consolidating the cost principles into a single document, with limited variations by type of entity
  • For indirect (“facilities and administrative”) costs, using flat rates instead of negotiated rates

As you can see, some of these changes, if implemented, will have a broad, long-lasting effect on how federal grants are administered. Therefore, it is important to take advantage of this opportunity to provide input to OMB as they consider the proposed reforms.

You can submit comments at The comment period closes on March 29, 2012 April 30, 2012.


  1. The registration process is extremely cumbersome and time consuming.

    The award process seems to be entirely skewed toward career researchers. In other words, grants are awarded to those who have to continue getting grants to maintain a livelihood. This amounts to research for the sake of research. If it leads to anything useful that is serendipity. So attracting new researchers or novel ideas is not emphasized. I am not a career researcher. If I had known how the system works up front, I would not have wasted my time applying.

  2. ■Charging directly allocable administrative support as a direct cost

    This would be a much welcome change. My University due to reduction of state funding eliminated 3 years ago a secreterial help and since NIH does not allow charging adminsitrative costs in the direct cost category, I am spending 20-30% of my time to do budget checking/dealing, tracing POs, etc or cajoling the 3 overburden persons in our department who are charged to provide help for 8 faculty!

  3. I was not surprised by the graph published in “Science” 335 p 897 and wanted to comment. I graduated in 1990 from the NIH MSTP MD/PhD program and then did another 6 years of NIH funded fellowships studying immunology to chronic viral infections. The NIH spent considerably more than $500,000 training me to be a physician scientist and I had a number of projects worth pursueing. However, currently at age 53 I practice full time as a clinician because when I was 40 it was apparent that all the grants were going to those age 50-60 already in the pipeline and I did not want to do their projects, I wanted to do my own projects. Now these same 50-60 year olds are 60-70 year old and still getting their grants for the same research they were doing 10 years ago in many cases, or in some cases simply republishing the same data. They are the only ones who can navigate the fantastically complicated grant system and can count on their colleagues of the same age to steer them through the grant process. What will happen when they retire? Does anyone at the NIH care? What is most urgently required is a pathway so that those forced out of the system during this period can get back in and contribute in our 50s and 60s to mentor a new generation. Just funding the same people as they age and die is not working.

    1. Nope, NIH simply does not care. Dont forget, nearly everyone at NIH has never applied for grants themselves and have never published more than 7-8 papers. They are just Govt. beaurocrats, who do their 9-5, collect their paychecks and go home.

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