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Mandatory Cost Sharing May Return for Some NSF Programs

September 02, 2009

Offering some good news for universities and companies looking for funding, the National Science Board (NSB) has recommended the elimination of any evidence of voluntary cost share from most grant proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, the board recommended mandatory cost matching should be reinstated in a handful of initiatives, including its Engineering Research Centers (ERC) program, its Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) program, and its EPSCoR program.

The return of mandatory matching funds may present a mixed bag for state and university TBED policies in an era of shrinking financial resources. States that have programs in place to match federal research grants are well positioned strategically to support those opportunities that may provide the fit with the state's tech-based economic development goals. States without matching-grant mechanisms already established may need to expand their portfolio of programs if growing the research enterprise is one of their TBED priorities.

These recommendations and several others are included in the new NSB report, Investing in the Future: NSF Cost Sharing Policies for a Robust Federal Research Enterprise, released last month. Passed by Congress in 2007, the America COMPETES Act contained a charge to the NSB to examine the consequences of its 2004 decision to eliminate mandatory cost sharing requirements across all NSF programs.

There were several reasons for the removal of mandatory cost sharing, the report explains. Mandatory cost sharing was seen as a potential barrier that made institutions with fewer resources ineligible to apply for certain programs. In terms of merit review and the proposal process, it also was desired to eliminate any influence mandatory cost sharing had on the selection of NSF awardees. Additionally, removing mandatory cost sharing allowed for uniformity across NSF programs and reduced the need for institutions to undertake additional administrative functions such as tracking and reporting.

However, some NSF initiatives were reported to be negatively impacted by this change, especially those based on partnerships requiring both industry and university participation and those requiring continual funding for long-range and large-scale research and infrastructure projects.

While the NSB is recommending instances in which mandatory cost sharing should be revived, the board also continued to embrace issues of equity by encouraging the removal of all voluntary cost sharing, especially as institutions are able to insert their ability to pay additional funds if chosen.

While most of the report focuses on cost sharing issues, it also briefly examines the cap placed on institutions seeking to claim indirect costs. Since the 26 percent reimbursement limit was set in 1991, compliance and administrative costs have changed, as have various regulations and safety issues. The NSB recommended further research be performed to determine if the cap should be adjusted.

Investing in the Future: NSF Cost Sharing Policies for a Robust Federal Research Enterprise is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2009/nsb0920/index.jsp.

Future of University TBED Involvement A Key Theme at SSTI's Annual Conference
The role of universities in innovation and regional innovation is going through one of its most dramatic periods of change. As a result, SSTI is dedicating three sessions at our upcoming conference to explore the evolution of several fundamental aspects of university-based TBED: universities as drivers for growth, university leadership and engagement in regional economic development, and moving beyond traditional technology transfer and university commercialization efforts. In addition, we'll hear examples of award-winning approaches to TBED involving universities and colleges. Learn more about the upcoming SSTI national conference at http://www.ssticonference.org/.

Kansas, Virginia