Anderson, Christopher. "Universities Discover that Simplicity Has Its Price," Science 258 (18
December 1992), p. 1874.
It has been three years since the scandals at Stanford augured for changing the complex methods
of calculating the indirect costs associated with government supported research. Now, with
Bush's term ending, a simplified A-21 is being circulated for comment. It is clear, however, that
there is no time for comment and, given the long period of waiting for the present document and
the frequent discussions that went into it, there will be little.
It seems that, for practical purposes, there will be caps for indirect costs at about 24% of the total.
That is simple enough but far below the 70 and more percent that Stanford and other schools
used to wheedle out of ONR. (ONR, incidentally, stays on as a major source of funding and the
universities want to keep it that way.)
There are various other restrictions: administrative staff for research grants used to be wholly
written off to government. This will no longer be allowed. Moreover, the graduate students
funded through a project will now be part of the total costs of the project rather than spread out to
other sources. These are going to hurt major research institutions like Caltech, MIT and Johns
It looks like most universities will accept the new A-21 if for no other reason than to end the
uncertainties concerning indirect costs.