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indirect costs

Jean-Claude is right that indirect cost recovery dollars don't flow easily back to the things that generate those costs. Here's roughly the pattern:

1. We fight with the feds to get them to agree to the highest possible rate of indirect costs based on our demonstrated costs over the last N years. We end with a rate that we all know is below the actual rate. Let's say 2.5% of a 55% ICR rate is library. So on a $1M grant, there out to be $550K for ICR and $2.5K for the library. In other words, if we do $500M in research, we'll supposedly have a million and a quarter for the library. (Georgetown doesn't come close to $500M -- only a handful do.)

2. If we gave the library that $1.25M, of course, a large slice of it would go for facilities depreciation, heat, light, utilities, security, staffing, etc. -- only a fraction (others would have to guess what that would be) would go to collections materials -- and of that only a fraction to materials whose subscriptions could someday be cancelled to free up $$ to support OA publication.

3. But in the real world, that $1.25M does not go to the library. We choose ("we": every major research university I know of) to swallow most of the ICR dollars into central fungible dollars to pay for fighting the next fire (see my last message) -- the last couple of years, utility bills have been the monster elbowing its way into the room, for example. And we also take a chunk of the money and divide it back to the individual researcher, his/her department, and his or her school -- as incentive to pursue more grant-funded research, and incidentally to cover some of the *necessary* costs of research that are covered neither by direct grant nor by indirect costs. It's complicated to describe that, but it is essentially an accounting tool to provide in concrete form the subsidy that every research enterprise needs if it is to survive.

It is not, in other words, that grants and their indirect costs support the library. It would be truer to say in many institutions that the library forgoes dollars it could otherwise have in order to subsidize research grants.

Jim O'Donnell
Georgetown U .