Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Ask an Expert: Tips and Tools of the Trade

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Ask an Expert: Tips and Tools of the Trade

Article excerpt


The editors of The Journal of Research Administration are excited to announce the addition of a new column called "Ask an Expert: Tips and Tools of the Trade." The author, Chuck Chermside, CRA, has been a highly involved member of SRA (and many other professional societies) since 1969 and retired last year from serving as director of Sponsored Programs Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University for 22 years. This new column will consist of questions and answers on a wide range of topics in research administration and is guaranteed to be interesting and thought-provoking to research administrators just starting out in their career, as well as for more seasoned administrators. Chuck has compiled these frequently asked questions over many years and has presented them in part at both the international and Southern Section meetings. Some of them clarify regulatory policy while others offer seasoned advice on how to handle many of the situations we face every day. The new column will be a welcome addition to our growing Journal.

1. "Patient-Care" costs

Q: My question concerns "patient-care" costs. At our university, "patient-care" costs are defined by function and whether the function is being performed by our affiliated hospital, and not by whether there is truly any element of patient care involved. The following example will help. If we draw blood from a research subject who is not receiving treatment as a patient and the blood is analyzed in a laboratory of our affiliated hospital, that is considered to be a patient-care cost. But if the blood is sent to an outside laboratory for analysis, it is not patient care. We have the same situation with MRI scans. If they are done in the affiliated hospital facility, they are considered patient-care costs even when the individual's only association with the university and hospital is as a research subject.

A: "Patient Care" has a unique and not obvious meaning in budgeting/costing under A-21 cost principles. This category of costs is intended to cover those costs from the institution's health care delivery system that are priced to include the health care system's F&A costs. It would be inappropriate to "double charge" for F&A costs on the same good/service within the organization. Health care system costs are expected to, and should, include their F&A costs in their pricing to all comers, so that the pricing is equitable. Therefore, for all practical purposes, the definition of "Patient Care" is that group of object codes in your accounting system that cover services through the health care system that is part of, or associated with, your institution. This also clarifies why patient-care costs do not earn F&A. This definition is not easily understood by those unfamiliar with how F&A costs are calculated and levied. "Patient Care" has a much broader meaning to most individuals involved in delivering health care, so watch carefully for its correct use.

2. Little or No Effort Proposed

Q: A PI or Co-I will have zero effort on a proposal or, perhaps 1% effort on a $1 million project. What should you do?

A: Zero effort is hard to justify, but might be acceptable in some cases, for example, a nominal PI proposing ex officio, e.g., a department chair on an institutional training grant. Low effort on a big project is similar; it is acceptable only if it is clearly realistic. The thing to avoid is "larding" a proposal with "big names" in hopes of attracting funding. Proposers should realize that reviewers, too, are aware of this ploy and look on it with disfavor. Of course, you should differentiate this from proposing 10% of a leader's time and requesting only 1% paid by sponsor, which results in cost sharing of 9%. Also, institutional and sponsor policies about how much of a PI's effort may/should be charged vary. Note that NIH policy states that zero effort or as-needed effort for key personnel is not acceptable. …

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