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Home PI eAlert Back Issues No. 62: Legitimate grant charges: cell phone, laptop, admin help?

Jan 31

No. 62: Legitimate grant charges: cell phone, laptop, admin help?

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Legitimate grant charges: cell phone, laptop, admin help?

Reader question: I’m in the process of structuring my proposed budget for an R01 research grant application. Will the budget be approved if I include pay for a part-time administrative assistant and several electronic devices, such as laptops and cell phones?

Expert comments: The administrative assistant, and all grant-funded positions, have to be tied directly to the grant. You must justify how the position will be an essential part of what you’re proposing, and give as much detail as possible in your narrative, making sure to describe the assistant’s role and functions related to the project.

For instance, if the person will be responsible for entering data, preparing or fine tuning reports, and being responsible for tracking project expenditures, you should list all of these functions and link them to the research project. Hiring an administrative assistant to handle daily tasks for you will not be approved.

For R01 grants, equipment and supplies are allowable costs, but they must also be linked to the research project. Perhaps you need a laptop computer because you’re preforming your research at various locations and that piece of equipment needs to travel with you. You will have to explain this in the narrative and the budget narrative and then tie it directly to your research. In this case, the laptop would be an allowable expense.

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Getting approval for cell phones may be a little more difficult because the bottom line is they have to be justified and directly related to the grant project to be approved. Obviously, reviewers will not approve cell phones used solely for the organization or the individual.

On the other hand, if your proposal includes a time-sensitive procedure that requires around-the-clock communication with your staff for appropriate outcomes, then the cell phone likely would be an allowable expense.

Also, keep in mind that electronic devices are not in a separate category, but instead are lumped in with equipment and supplies. This category includes printers, fax machines, and even desktop computers, and reviewers will approve these if their use is solely dedicated to the project.

Even if you feel a reviewer will obviously know why you need a particular piece of equipment, you still need to spell it out and link it to the research. There’s no guarantee that those reviewing your grant will have any background or knowledge regarding your type of research or project, so you can’t leave anything to chance.

Expert comments by Debbie DiVirgilio, grant consultant, DiVirgilio & Associates, Elkton, MD.

Comments (1)
written by Mark Boothby, January 31, 2011
It wasn't clear if this was a non-modular application or preparing the budget for a modular grant that is on a pay list or wants JIT. Also, it was not clear if the project was relatively clinical in nature.

Generally speaking, my understanding is that the bar is set very high because of old OMB circulars about what is allowable as direct cost and - although the reality is that it would help even with non-clinical / non-translational research, at least at my institution it would be extraordinarily hard to get admin help onto a basic-science R01 (as opposed to a P01, U01, U19, or P50). Put a different way, even if you could justify something to grant reviewers or they weren't looking, your institution still has rules from the feds that need to be policed by internal control processes.

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