Harvard Supports Grant Rule Changes

OMB Considers Revision of A-21

Harvard is supporting proposed changes in a federal rule that requires university researchers receiving government grants to account for the use of their time, University financial officials said yesterday.

Because of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-21, professors doing research with Federal funds must now fill in "effort reports, "detailed breakdowns of the percentage of time they spend on research, teaching and other activities.

The rule has been a source of contention between universities and federal authorities, contributing to what some consider an adversarial relationship between the government and research institutions.

Many researchers feel that their time can not be divided up into the neat accountable divisions the government wants, and universities are opposed to it because of the time required to complete the complicated forms.

Earlier this year Yale became the first university to turn down a federal research grant because of the A-21 rule, when the senior researcher on the project refused to sign and effort reporting form.


The proposed rule changes have come out of debate between OMB and universities and would in general ease the documentation practices a University must follow. One change would do away with required "personnel activity reports" and instead allow the university to follow a general set of accounting principles. As long as the institution was abiding by these general criteria, it could use any of several accounting practices.

Under the new plan researchers would be required to document only work done under federal grants and primary responsibility for record keeping would shift from scientists to administrators.

Both Financial Vice President Thomas A O'Brien, and Robert H Scott, director of financial systems, praised these and other revisions of Circular A-21, saying that they strike a good balance between Harvard's needs and the federal government's desire to have taxpayers money spent correctly.

"If you are going to have effort reporting,' "these are" very reasonable proposals," said Scott, adding that "we are trying as hard as we can to get the Office of Management and Budget to issue the proposed guidelines."

Harvard and other universities are supporting the revised guidelines through the Council on Governmental Relations and the American Association of Universities.

Universities and individuals have had the opportunity to comment on the proposed guidelines since their appearance in the January Federal Register. OMB will be making a final decision on whether to accept the proposals within two months, an agency spokesman said yesterday.