Why computers or data storage devices are normally treated as indirect costs?

Technology has changed rapidly over the past few decades. Desktops, laptops, and data-storage devices include a wide range of functions: computation, data storage, correspondence, communication, entertainment, etc. The regular use of computers and data-storage devices in daily business operations makes it difficult and impractical to isolate specific scientific functions and their related costs with a high degree of accuracy.

Desktops, laptops, and data-storage devices below the capitalization threshold are generally considered to support a variety of activities and cannot be linked to one specific project. Therefore, computers are typically treated as indirect costs.

Examples of computers that should be considered an indirect cost:

  • Computers that are assigned routinely to students, staff, or faculty members
  • Computers located in any generally accessible area in a lab or office space

When may computers or data-storage devices be charged as a direct cost?

A computer or data-storage device may be charged as a direct cost if the purchase will be necessary for a specific sponsored research project and will not be used as general-purpose equipment.

Examples of computers that can be charged as direct costs:

  • A computer is physically attached to another piece of scientific equipment
    and/or is required for collection and analysis of information/data
  • A laptop is specifically needed to record data in field research
  • A computer is used primarily on the designated sponsored award

The Principal Investigator must attest that the computer would not be purchased if not for the sponsored project.

If you plan to charge computers or software to a sponsored project as a direct cost:

  • Conform to restrictions and approval requirements outlined in the terms and conditions of the award
  • Provide a written justification to explain the way that the computer is being used and to outline its specific purpose related to the scientific scope of work