Developing a Proper Budget (Part Two)

111212_TECH_money.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large(Part One is available here.)

The next tier of personnel to consider are any research scientists, research assistants, project managers (in the case of larger awards), and other significant contributors to the project. These roles are often considered by sponsors as “Key Personnel” or “Other Senior Personnel” and do not usually fall into the same effort restrictions as PIs and Co-PIs. For instance, NSF requires a 2-month effort limit across all NSF-funded projects for all investigators, but it would not be uncommon to see a research assistant on an NSF proposal listed at half or even full time on the project. The creator of the budget should still be mindful not to over or underestimate the contributions of these individuals; it is just simply more common to see greater fluctuations in time spent on the project amongst this group.

One of the greatest pitfalls to be mindful of when assessing project personnel outside of PIs and Co-PIs for federal proposals is the determination of whether the personnel member’s role is considered administrative in nature. For the most part, federal sponsors will not allow administrative personnel to be listed on proposal budgets as they expect any administrative costs to be covered through the allotted indirect costs that are determined by the applicant’s federal negotiated F&A rate.  However, federal sponsors do allow an exception with especially large projects where the amount of administrative tasks associated with the project warrant the need for administrative personnel to be directly charged. On the other end of the spectrum, private sponsors often do not have policies concerning administrative personnel. In fact, with most private sponsors limiting IDC, it can often be beneficial to list administrative staff under personnel.

The last group to recognize when formulating the personnel section of the budget consists of postdocs, grad, and undergrad students. Postdocs and graduate students will often see full-time salaries on awards and it is important to determine in the justification the type of work that they will be performing compared to the project’s investigators. Furthermore, with graduate students especially, it is vital to consult with your school’s research office in order to determine whether there are other costs that must be included on the proposal for the student such as mandatory tuition costs or health insurance. Additionally, there can be different implications depending on whether the student or postdoc is receiving a stipend versus salary, so it should also be noted in discussions with the relevant research administration office.

Once the project personnel have been determined, the last step in completing the personnel section is applying the appropriate fringe rates to the listed salaries. Full time faculty and staff, temporary or limited faculty and staff, and post docs all have different fringe rates, thus the University’s most recent rate agreement should always be referenced before listing a fringe rate for a personnel member. For students, fringe should only be applied if the student is working during the summer months, but is not enrolled in a summer class.

Ultimately, the personnel section of a proposal budget should act as the foundation for the overall budget. By carefully constructing the personnel section, the project’s scale should come into better focus, giving a clear indication of the funds that will need to be requested for other items throughout the budget such as equipment, supplies, or travel.  This will aid in the sponsor review process as clear and concise detail on the use of sponsored funds leads to an easier and thus more favorable review.