MIT Research Administration Services (RAS) has the immediate responsibility for the business administration aspects of research projects sponsored by the government, industry, or foundations in accordance with the established policies of the Institute.
Government-sponsored research is normally carried out under contracts, cooperative agreements, or grants, depending on which agency is sponsoring the work and, to some extent, on the nature of the program.
Although government grants and contracts are subject to differing statutory requirements and regulations, there is no significant difference between them in terms of MIT research policy and administrative procedures. Except for federal compliance programs or regulations, the administration of contracts from private organizations does not differ markedly from that of government grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts.
Grants from foundations, on the other hand, are usually more broadly defined, and administrative and contractual requirements are minimal. Frequently, the only intent of the sponsor or donor is to assist the Institute's program or to advance the state of the art in a given field.
The following procedures should be observed for a research program whether it is to be covered by a contract or grant and regardless of the potential sponsor:
In sponsoring research at colleges and universities, the federal government and other sponsors reimburse the direct costs charged to specific projects as well as the facilities and administrative (F&A) costs that support research projects generally, such as those incurred in personnel administration, accounting, physical plant operations and maintenance, the libraries, etc.
Since most F&A cost categories consist of "shared" costs that jointly support both instructional and sponsored research activities, they must be allocated on some equitable basis to instructional programs on the one hand and to sponsored research projects on the other. The allocation process is governed by OMB Circular A-21, the federal "Cost Principles Applicable to Educational Institutions," and is implemented at MIT using procedures negotiated with the Institute's cognizant federal agency, the Office of Naval Research.
After a portion of each facilities and administrative cost category, or "pool," has been allocated to sponsored research as a whole for a given fiscal year, the total amount so allocated must be charged to (or collected from) each individual research project. This prorated charge is determined by applying a fixed percentage, or F&A cost rate, to certain direct costs charged to that project during the fiscal year. Any F&A costs not charged to a particular sponsored project are not absorbed by other projects, but must be funded by the Institute.
The direct costs to which the F&A cost rate is applied are referred to collectively as the "facilities and administrative cost base" or "collection base." The collection base required by OMB Circular A-21 is modified total direct costs (MTDC), i.e., all direct costs less certain exclusions such as equipment, subcontract costs exceeding $25,000, fellowship stipends and tuition, etc.
The fixed F&A cost rate applied in any given year is determined in advance of that year based on the Institute's budget projections. After the year is over and the final, audited F&A cost rate negotiated, the fixed rate may turn out to have been too high or too low. In that case, the overrecovery or the underrecovery of facilities and administrative costs is carried forward to a subsequent year, which lowers or increases the fixed rate for that year. Consequently, MIT receives no windfall in F&A cost recovery when research volume exceeds fiscal year budget estimates.
The negotiation of allowable F&A costs, the direct cost base, and the applicable F&A cost rate is the direct responsibility of the Controller.
Materials explaining the composition of facilities and administrative costs and the direct cost base, and how F&A cost rates are calculated are available from Research Administration Services.