Science and Technology:

Minimum Requirements Are Needed for Colleges and Universities To Justify Research Equipment Purchases

HRD-78-52: Published: May 11, 1978. Publicly Released: May 11, 1978.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide about 65 percent of the federal grant funds awarded to colleges and universities to conduct scientific research and appear to be the primary sources of grant funds for research equipment. The NSF budget for equipment increased about 50 percent since fiscal year 1976, and NIH expenditures for equipment rose about 25 percent between 1976 and 1977. During this period, equipment expenses rose from 11 percent to 13 percent of total grant expenses for NSF and from 5.3 percent to 5.6 percent for NIH.

Both NSF and NIH rely mainly on the researcher to request only necessary equipment. The agencies also use their research proposal evaluation system, including peer review, budget cuts, and site visits to help eliminate unnecessary equipment requests. Both agencies expect the researcher and/or the department head to determine equipment availability in the department before requesting new equipment. Officials at six of seven universities reviewed said they rely heavily on the researchers' personal knowledge of available equipment when determining the need for new equipment. NSF and NIH both required institutions to maintain property records and periodically conduct physical inventories. Had these requirements been complied with, they could have helped institution officials determine equipment needs. According to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-110 issued in 1976, grantees are no longer required to maintain inventory or other controls over equipment.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Director, OMB, in conjunction with federal agencies awarding research grants to nonprofit institutions, should develop for inclusion in OMB Circular A-110: (1) minimum requirements for grantees to follow to avoid unnecessary equipment purchases; and (2) procedures to periodically check grantees' compliance with these requirements.

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