Quick Tips: Purchasing Equipment on Sponsored Research Awards

Published May 1, 2013

Generally speaking, equipment purchases on sponsored research awards are somewhat restricted in that funding agencies require significant review and approval for purchases on the projects they are funding.

The predominant concern is that an equipment purchase – which is generally of significant dollar value, with a life span that might exceed the term of the grant, and which is often used for purposes other than the specific project the award has funded – be justified as being dedicated to the project (or projects) that are being charged for the purchase.  Thus, Investigators should include in their justification for the purchase of equipment how the equipment will directly benefit the funded research program.

Another area of concern is when investigators wish to purchase equipment in the final 90 days of the award period.  This is generally unallowable by sponsors, particularly federal and state government sponsors.  Thus, it is better for investigators to initiate their equipment purchases towards the beginning of a project, and not at the end.

The purchase of computers or laptops is also an area of concern expressed by federal sponsors, as the benefits to a project for a late equipment acquisition are not immediately apparent.  Since computers are used for general purposes in addition to the use for the funded research, federal sponsors generally feel that the award should not purchase general use computers.  Computers that are dedicated to certain equipment or laboratory functions normally do not face the same level of scrutiny as computers or laptops being used by PIs or laboratory personnel for general research and other professional activities.

There are always exceptions, of course, and justification can be made even for purchases as outlined above.  Investigators should contact their Award Analysts with any questions regarding the purchase of equipment on their research awards.