PI Administrative Burden

NIAID sent out a little notice today that included survey data about specific complaints federally funded PIs have about the administrative burden of managing a grant award. The study’s shocking conclusions include:

  • Of the time allotted for government-funded research, researchers spend an average of 42% on administrative tasks. Based on a conservative estimate of the average salaries/benefits of the 6,081 faculty survey respondents, this represents an investment of over $85 million in administrative task management.
  • 95% said that they would have more time for active research if they had help with research-related administrative tasks.
  • 76% were willing to reallocate direct costs to get help with research-related administrative tasks.
  • Looking at stats about the respondents, these seem to be solid R01-type folks not hard up for NGAs. Average direct-cost (ie, no indirect or F&A costs included) funding among respondents was $434,753 … median direct-cost funding was $213,000. More than half were full professors, with only 22% at the Asst Prof level. In other words, these are people who should have some access to administrative assistance at the division/dept level.

    Listed below in descending order are the top research-related burdens as reported by the majority of faculty surveyed:

    1. Grant progress-report submissions
    2. Personnel hiring
    3. Project-revenue management
    4. Equipment and supply purchases
    5. IRB protocols and training
    6. Training personnel and students
    7. Personnel evaluations

    Project revenue management? On the other hand, they report very little burden related to managing conflict of interest issues. Hmm. And much to the dismay, no doubt, of their parent institution, they spend almost no time on IP protection or patent applications.

    In spite of all the griping, almost 92% would still choose an academic research career if they had it to do over again. Wonder why the other 8% are still in the game, especially if they have a couple of R01s on their plate.

    These data come from the Faculty Administrative Burden Report, which comes from the Federal Demonstration Project or FDP.

    Curious about this FDP creature, I discovered the following disturbing sentence:

    “Begun as an experiment in 1986 between five federal agencies (National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Office of Naval Research, Department of Energy, and US Department of Agriculture) and the Florida State University System and the University of Miami to test and evaluate a grant mechanism utilizing a standardized and simplified set of terms and conditions across all participating agencies, the FDP has evolved into an organization of 10 federal agencies and more that 90 research institutions dedicated to finding efficient and effective ways to support research by maximizing resources available for research and minimizing administrative costs.”

    Somehow, I suspect the length, complexity, and thesis of this sentence offers good insight on how much (or little) to expect from this … project.


    1. […] key findings and conclusions were nicely summarized in this post, and include: * Of the time allotted for government-funded research, researchers spend an average […]

    2. […] October 3, 2007 at 8:59 pm · Filed under NIH Advice, NSF Info As observed today in Nature (& blogged here earlier in the year), the NSF is doing a very precise time audit of funded researchers to ensure they actually spend as much time as they are paid for on specific projects. So far, UPenn and Caltech have been scrutinized and found wanting (Caltech took a hit to their indirect cost rate). The next batch of reports will cover UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, U Utah, U Ill Urb-Cham, and Vanderbilt. Not surprisingly, everyone is being tight-lipped about the entire process. So much for NSF’s concern about administrative burden. […]

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