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OMB No A-21: Cost Principles for Educational Institutions

I.    Composition of total costs. The cost of a sponsored agreement is comprised of the allowable direct costs incident to its performance, plus the allocable portion of the allowable F&A costs of the institution.

II.    Factors affecting allowability of costs. The tests of allowability of costs under these principles are:

a.    they must be reasonable;

b.    they must be allocable to sponsored agreements under the principles and methods provided herein;

c.    they must be given consistent treatment through application of those generally accepted accounting principles appropriate to the circumstances;

d.    they must conform to any limitations or exclusions set forth in these principles or in the sponsored agreement as to types or amounts of cost items.

III.    Reasonable costs. A cost may be considered reasonable if the nature of the goods or services acquired or applied, and the amount involved therefore, reflects the action that a prudent person would have taken under the circumstances prevailing at the time the decision to incur the cost was made. Major considerations involved in the determination of the reasonableness of a cost are:

a.     whether or not the cost is of a type generally recognized as necessary for the operation of the institution or the performance of the sponsored agreement;

b.     the restraints or requirements imposed by such factors as arm's-length bargaining, Federal and State laws and regulations, and sponsored agreement terms and conditions;

c.     whether or not the individuals concerned acted with due prudence in the circumstances, considering their responsibilities to the institution, its employees, its students, the Federal Government, and the public at large;

d.     the extent to which the actions taken with respect to the incurrence of the cost are consistent with established institutional policies and practices applicable to the work of the institution generally, including sponsored agreements.

IV.    Allocable costs.

a.     A cost is allocable to a particular cost objective (i.e., a specific function, project, sponsored agreement, department, or the like) if the goods or services involved are chargeable or assignable to such cost objective in accordance with relative benefits received or other equitable relationship. Subject to the foregoing, a cost is allocable to a sponsored agreement if (1) it is incurred solely to advance the work under the sponsored agreement; (2) it benefits both the sponsored agreement and other work of the institution, in proportions that can be approximated through use of reasonable methods, or (3) it is necessary to the overall operation of the institution and, in light of the principles provided in this Circular, is deemed to be assignable in part to sponsored projects. Where the purchase of equipment or other capital items is specifically authorized under a sponsored agreement, the amounts thus authorized for such purchases are assignable to the sponsored agreement regardless of the use that may subsequently be made of the equipment or other capital items involved.

b.     Any costs allocable to a particular sponsored agreement under the standards provided in this Circular may not be shifted to other sponsored agreements in order to meet deficiencies caused by overruns or other fund considerations, to avoid restrictions imposed by law or by terms of the sponsored agreement, or for other reasons of convenience.

c.     Any costs allocable to activities sponsored by industry, foreign governments or other sponsors may not be shifted to federally-sponsored agreements.

d.     Allocation and documentation standard.

(1) Cost principles. The recipient institution is responsible for ensuring that costs charged to a sponsored agreement are allowable, allocable, and reasonable under these cost principles.

(2) Internal controls. The institution's financial management system shall ensure that no one person has complete control over all aspects of a financial transaction.

(3) Direct cost allocation principles. If a cost benefits two or more projects or activities in proportions that can be determined without undue effort or cost, the cost should be allocated to the projects based on the proportional benefit. If a cost benefits two or more projects or activities in proportions that cannot be determined because of the interrelationship of the work involved, then, notwithstanding subsection b, the costs may be allocated or transferred to benefited projects on any reasonable basis, consistent with subsections d.(1) and (2).

(4) Documentation. Federal requirements for documentation are specified in this Circular, Circular A-110, "Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations," and specific agency policies on cost transfers. If the institution authorizes the principal investigator or other individual to have primary responsibility, given the requirements of subsection d.(2), for the management of sponsored agreement funds, then the institution's documentation requirements for the actions of those individuals (e.g., signature or initials of the principal investigator or designee or use of a password) will normally be considered sufficient.

For full text of circular see:

Academic Dean