Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Home PI eAlert Back Issues No. 36: Who owns the supplies ordered off of a grant that is now expired?

Jul 05

No. 36: Who owns the supplies ordered off of a grant that is now expired?

Posted by: PIA in

Tagged in: Untagged 

Sign Up to receive free weekly articles like these

Preview of next week's PI eAlert

Grant Clinic

Who owns the supplies ordered off of a grant that is now expired?

Reader Question: I understand that equipment ordered off a grant that has expired is owned by the institution responsible for administering the grant, but is the same true for supplies? For example, could I sell my old unused zip drives on eBay? Should the proceeds from that sale go back to the institution? Or back to the funding agency?

Expert Comment: Whose grant is it? Go ask that of your grants administrator or your dean of research and you will be told, “It's our grant” (along with the implied, “...and don’t you forget it!”). Yes, your institution owns every bit of it, down to the last pencil you bought with the direct-costs funding. It all belongs to them.

Specifically, the institution owns the equipment (items costing $5,000 or more and have an estimated two-year life) purchased by a federal grant. (Items costing less than $5,000 are considered “supplies.”)

When the grant period ends, the institution can give the equipment to another PI to do research or use the equipment for educational purposes. Of course, if a PI moves during the life of the grant, the equipment can be transferred to the new institution with the approval of both institutions. In either event, it will be logged in and tagged with a unique identifier that goes into the institute’s data base of inventory. The organization can lend it to another researcher or let it remain on a shelf, unused, which is very often what happens.

As for the supplies, they should not be sold for profit. If they are still usable after the grant ends, they stay with the institution. With approval from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you can sell some items, but the monies must be put back into the grant as "program income" and the monies must be used for grant research purposes.

The best practice is to keep the supplies with the originating institution.

(I thank Jerome Itinger, director of grants and contracts at the College of Health and Human Development, Pennsylvania State University, for helping to clarify this point).

Comments by William Gerin, PhD, P.I. e-Alert's chief grants consultant, professor of biobehavioral health, Pennsylvania State University, and author of Writing the NIH Grant Proposal: A Step-by-Step Process (SAGE Books, 2006)

This eAlert is brought to you as an informational training tool by the Principal Investigators Association, which is an independent organization. Neither the eAlert nor its contents have any connection with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), nor are they endorsed by these agencies. All views expressed are those personally held by the author and are not official government policies or opinions.

Comments (12)
written by Observer, July 08, 2010
When dealing with federal funds, best not to do anything at all out of the ordinary, even if it makes sense from a financial perspective- it can land one on the wrong side of the law even if your intentions are good. Equally important, it can bring trouble to the institution and impact many more people than just yourself. I definitely wouldn't sell stuff that was paid for by any research grants on e-Bay. Most likely you'll use a personal e-Bay account and not a university one and that just looks bad. It's easier to donate the equipment to the university and let them dispose of it. Many universities have a store house where other faculty can purchase items very cheaply, especially computers, peripherals, furniture etc. Your old zip drives are not worth much....why take the risk of jeopardizing entire programs.
Director, Research Administration, University of Pennsylvania Dept. of Medicine
written by Glen Lafferty, July 08, 2010
Supplies purchased with grant funds clearly belong to the institution, but the Grants Policy Statement contains the following clarification regarding supplies with an aggregate value in excess of $5,000 at project termination:
"If there is a residual inventory of unused supplies exceeding $5,000 in aggregate fair market value upon termination or completion of the grant, and if the supplies are not needed for other federally sponsored programs or projects, the grantee may either retain them for use on other than federally sponsored activities or sell them, but, in either case, the grantee shall compensate the NIH awarding office for its share as a credit to the grant."
written by nm, July 08, 2010
some foundations (AHA used to, not sure now) have a rules that equip must remain available to the PI after a grant ends(much as endowed gifts to universities can have strings attached that limit what they can do) and some even state that equip is transferable if the PI moves to another bona fide research institution.

never heard of anyone quibbling over supplies - most places do not even have systems in place to track supplies
written by PI in London, July 08, 2010
If I were you I'd throw the zip drives away no one uses them any more.... or if you can sell them on ebay go ahead! it might end up in enough money for a beer or two!
regarding who owns the left overs, strictly speaking I guess its the institiution but I dont think i''ve ever heard of organisations squablling over small items like zip drives.
written by som, July 08, 2010
What about books purchased of the grant? Can the PI take them if he moves aftr the expiration of the grant?
written by LN, Director Sponsored Programs, private institution, July 08, 2010
The institution owns anything purchased with the grant funds, the grant is to the institution. That said, I would let faculty take books if they left if they were specific for their own research - we don't keep inventories of those. I certainly would frown on a faculty member selling supplies on e-bay - those should be used by the department. I would not let them take equipment. At another institution in which I worked we required a faculty member to return equipment such as a computer and phone that had been purchased with a federal grant after he left the institution and took the equipment with him.
written by Eli Rabett, July 08, 2010
Some universities take used equipment that the PI is finished with back into central stores, offer it to others and if there are no takers sell it on Ebay. To make this work they can offer a partial credit to the PI if it is sold
VC for Research
written by RGE, July 08, 2010
To reduce the pervasive confusion on this topic, "grantee", and grant "recipient" refer to the institution and not the PI. Make sure you read the above comments with this in mind
Administrative Manager
written by rhp, July 09, 2010
Pencils????? We are not allowed to charge any general office supplies to a grant unless we can prove that the pencil (or other supplies) is used ONLY for work on that grant.
written by a grants administartor, July 11, 2010
To the above commenter, I used to feel the same way about pencils and paper, etc when I worked in a purely bench research facility, but I moved to a place where they have a lot of federal education grants, and pencils and paper ARE allowable expenses, as are administrative salaries. Still, all federal dollars belong to the institution, not the PI, so the PI could not sell any residuals.

Program income is a nightmare, I've been down that road and would avoid it all costs in the future.
reciprocal loans
written by College Professor, July 12, 2010
We have sometimes used long term loans to effectively transfer unused equipment between investigators at different institutions. If you need my old unused laser, I loan it to you. The equipment remains property of my institution, and we can get it back if we need it - but in practice we might never do this. In return, you might loan me something I need. Does this meet the smell test?

- a Professor
Professor of Reproductive Biology in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Washington U School of Medicine-St. Louis
written by Frederick Sweet, August 10, 2010
I completely agree with the expert opinion, but with an added proviso having to do with academic community standards. Nine out of 10 institutions will allow a PI to transfer his lab lock-stock-and-barrel to another custodial (not for profit) institution -- provided major pieces of equipment were not substantially funded by the first institution. Some times even then the lab will be allowed to be transferred -- either to another department or another university or research institute. But you cannot be at war with the administration and expect them to cooperate.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters