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Costs Overview

Office of Grants & Contracts


Cost Types

Direct Costs

Those costs that can be easily and accurately identified specifically with a particular sponsored project.


  • salaries/fringe benefits for principal investigator, co-investigators, technical staff, and collaborators (relative to the level of effort expended on the project);
  • laboratory supplies;
  • long-distance telephone toll charges;
  • animals and animal care costs;
  • equipment costs;
  • travel costs;
  • specialized shop costs.

Facility and Administrative Costs:

Those costs that are incurred for common or joint objectives and therefore cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project.


  • salaries/fringe benefits for administrative and/or secretarial staff;
  • routine departmental administrative and accounting costs;
  • membership dues/fees for technical and/or professional organizations;
  • office supplies;
  • ordinary and routine postage;
  • costs associated with preparing proposals, including typing, copying and mailing costs;
  • telephone hook-up fees and local service charges;
  • computer hook-up fees.

Consistent Treatment:

  • Costs incurred for the same purpose in like circumstances must be treated consistently as either direct or F&A costs.

Allowable Costs

Section J of OMB Circular A-21 provides a list of allowable and unallowable costs, and the principles to be applied in establishing the allowability of certain items. These principles are applicable irrespective of whether a particular item of cost is to be treated as a direct cost or an F&A cost. Failure to mention a particular item of cost is not intended to imply that it is either allowable or unallowable; rather, determination as to allowability in each case should be based on the treatment provided for similar or related items of cost. In case of a discrepancy between the provisions of a specific sponsored agreement and the provisions in Section J, the agreement should govern.

Cost Principles

Federal cost principles outlined in OMB Circular A-21 establish the following requirements:

  • Costs must be reasonable and necessary for the performance of the sponsored program.
  • Costs that benefit more than one sponsored program should be allocated to the “users” in proportion to the benefits received, using a reasonable basis for reflecting use or level of service.
  • Costs may not be shifted to other sponsored programs due to cost overruns, avoidance of restrictions imposed by law, or for convenience.

UC Denver Fiscal Policy 4-7 provides more information and guidance on the treatment of costs as either direct or F&A costs.