We believe that your March 18 article “Research giants win on federal funding” misleads by not placing enough emphasis on the overhead costs incurred by universities. A key element of the successful research partnership between the federal government and universities is that government research agencies reimburse universities for the cost of building and maintaining the necessary state-of-the-art labs, equipment, and administrative structure without which the research would be impossible.
This reimbursement is provided in support of research grants, and the system makes possible the extraordinary work of university researchers. It is not “extra money,” as one observer phrased it. It reimburses real research costs already expended by the university.
While the article implies that universities do not need to account for this money, this is not true. Universities undergo a rigorous audit process before reimbursement rates are set to ensure that only costs that support research are reimbursed. They undergo annual financial and internal control audits as well.
The proposal for flat reimbursement rates would not have produced a fairer or less costly system, and it was not “thwarted” by “powerhouse research institutions.” Public and private universities large and small overwhelmingly opposed it. Rates differ because universities have different costs based on energy needs, the types of research they conduct, laboratory differences, etc.
Universities actually initiated this review of the research reimbursement rules, and we support and continue to participate in the process. We hope that recommendations by the Government Accountability Office and the National Research Council play a major role in the final outcome.