What in the World are Direct Costs?
Direct costs are defined as "those costs that can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project relatively easily with a high degree of accuracy". For example, the salary of a principal investigator, times the calculated effort expended on an individual project equals the actual salary attributable to the specific project. This is true for all personnel working on the project.
Important principles in charging direct costs are:
- that they must be allowable as defined by federal cost principles in OMB Circular A-21
- that they must be reasonable, or what a prudent person would spend
- and they must be consistently treated as direct charges
Types of costs which are usually charged as direct costs include:
- Patient Care
Personnel (salaries & wages, fringe benefits)
- Only current or future PSU employees can be personnel (this may include personnel from other PSU campuses)
- The funding for personnel should be proportional to the effort, calculated by percent of effort or person months
- Note and explain part-time personnel
- Include 3% annual future increases
- It will depend on the application how you show your fringe rates - many agencies have a separate line item for fringe (NIH, NSF, AHA)
- If an agency application does not have a separate line for fringe benefits, it will probably ask for "personnel costs" where salary, and benefits should be added together
If students are part of the project team and you are paying them for their time on the project, they should be included under personnel
Payments for tuition reimbursement or tuition remission should not go under personnel, but under other unless the agency's forms specifically list tuition as a line item
Student tuition and fees are excluded from the total direct costs when figuring F&A costs (indirect costs)
Graduate students working on a grant as personnel shouldn't be at more than 50% effort since that is considered full-time for graduate students because of time committed to classwork
Consultants are individuals hired to give professional advice or services for a fee. Consultants are not companies or other institutions. Check to ensure your funding agency does not cap consultant costs. Consultants' fees are generally determined by the number of days or hours of consultant time provided. They are considered independent contractors. (For example, if you are working with a professor from another university who plans to work as a consultant on your grant, you do not need a subcontract. In those cases, the other university's employee is not utilizing his/her university's facilities or administrative services. However, if you plan to collaborate with a professor from another university, and that collaboration will include utilizing the other university's facilities and administrative facilities, you will need to complete a subcontract rather than a consulting agreement.) A letter agreement outlines scope of involvement & method of compensation for each consultant. Usually, this letter must be included the proposal.
When including consultants in your budget Include their names & affiliations Include frequency of consultations & rates. Include their travel and per diem in your estimates for consultant costs. Justify necessity and reasonableness in your budget justification
Equipment should be itemized on the budget and explained in the budget justification. At PSU, equipment is defined as an article of nonexpendable, tangible property having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per unit to comply with federal cost accounting principles. Please note that cost alone excludes most personal computers from being included in equipment purchases. Equipment included on a budget must be the exclusive use of that project, or be a reasonable allocation. Equipment is excluded from the total direct costs when figuring F&A costs (indirect costs).
Travel should be itemized on the budget to include purpose and destination. Additionally, the budget justification should include the relevance of the travel to the objectives of the project. Patient care costs and consultant travel are included under different categories. If travel is sponsored by federal funding, a US carrier is required. International per diem rates should be used to calculate foreign travel expenses. Some agencies and grant mechanisms also allow for travel to disseminate project information at conferences.
Participant costs are direct costs associated with workshop, conference, or training participants. For example, if your project includes a conference or a workshop, you may include participant costs (transportation, per diem, conference publications, other related costs, etc...) in your budget. Be sure to justify your participant costs and include the number of participants you plan to accommodate. Participant costs are not the same thing as employee costs - no employee costs should be included.
- Includes direct care to patients
- Rates used must be specified
- Identify number of patients anticipated
- Travel reimbursements or incentives for patients are included in other
- Examples of other charges are postage, phone/fax charges, rental, shop charges, animal per diem (although actual animals are considered supplies), publications & page charges, patient incentives & travel reimbursement, maintenance agreements for equipment, computer charges, photocopying, purchased services, etc.
- Purchased services may include: routine services purchased for a fee (usually per-unit). Generally, a purchase order should be used which outlines the services to be performed. A purchased service is not substantive programmatic work and does not contributing to the project in a scholarly, scientific manner. (If the service is substantive programmatic work, it should be listed under subcontracts or consultants
Subcontracts are formal agreements involving collaborative efforts with other institutions and organizations where the individuals will have substantive (scholarly) program involvement. In subcontracts, collaborative personnel are identified. Subcontracts include a budget. The first $25,000 of subcontract costs are included when figuring F&A (indirect costs). F&A costs are not charged to the portion of the subcontract in excess of $25,000. The negotiated PSUCOM F&A rates does not effect the F&A rates of subcontracting organizations. F&A rates are federally negotiated rates that are not dependent on other organizations.
In unusual circumstances, costs ordinarily claimed as facilities and administrative (F&A) costs might be considered direct costs instead. The mitigating circumstances relate to the size, nature, or complexity of the project. For example, although administrative and clerical staff salaries are ordinarily defined as F&A costs, if the duties required for a project are of a highly technical nature, then those salaries might be considered direct costs. Typical F&A costs, like postage, photocopying, office supplies, and local phone service, might be considered a direct cost if justified by the nature of the project; for example, mail or telephone survey charges, or expenses for supplies for research participants.
- What are Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC)?
- Modified Total Direct Costs consists of salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and subgrants and subcontracts up to the first $25,000 of each subgrant or subcontract (regardless of the period covered by the subgrant or subcontract). The base amount is the amount remaining from the total direct costs after applying the following exclusions: equipment (defined as having a useful life of over one year, and an acquisition cost of $5000 or more per unit), capital expenditures, charges for patient care and tuition remission, rental costs, scholarships and fellowships, as well as the portion of each subgrant and subcontract in excess of $25,000.
- What are Total Direct Costs (TDC)?
- Total direct costs are the actual costs anticipated for the project with no exclusions.
- When do I use MTDC?
- Federally sponsored projects use the negotiated F&A rate and MTDC in budget calculations. A sponsor typically provides information in the grant guidelines on how to calculate the budget for an individual submission. It is important that you read and understand the guidelines.