Spending Sponsored Funds: Unallowable Expenses

Most allowable expenses fall into the broad direct-cost categories of personnel, travel, supplies,  publication, consultants, subcontracts, tuition/fees remission, and participant support costs.  OSP has created an “Expense Justification Tool” on VandalWeb) to help identify those costs which are typically allowable, and how those expenses should be justified for audit purposes.  There are also certain kinds of expenses that are either generally unallowable to be direct-charged on Federal awards (i.e. they should be covered by indirect returns) or specifically unallowable per A-21 and University policy, as follows:


Basic Administrative and Operational Costs - Contact OSP for a determination

  • Office supplies, pens, paper, basic software, etc.
  • Local telephone and fax lines; telephone line and equipment charges
  • General clerical or secretarial assistance
  • Laptop and desktop personal computers
  • Postage, express mail
  • Hazardous waste disposal
  • Proposal preparation costs

Research-related Expenses Ineligible for Reimbursement

  • Books and periodicals
  • Dues and memberships in the PI’s name
  • Photocopying

Miscellaneous Unallowable Expenses

  • Alumni activities
  • Commencement and convocation costs
  • Organized fundraisers
  • Lobbying (Federal, State, or Local)
  • Student activities
  • Bad debt costs
  • Selling and marketing costs
  • Fines and penalties
  • Meal expenses for UI employees not in travel status (with certain exceptions)

Entertainment/Goods or Services for Personal Use

  • Sales tax
  • Alcohol
  • Flowers
  • Catering
  • Gifts
  • Space rental
  • Furniture
  • Construction
  • Housing and personal living expenses (utilities/rent/etc.)

Travel Restrictions:
 Travel costs, while allowable, have certain restrictions that must be adhered to when using Federal (including Federal flow-through) funds. 

  • Commercial air travel must be via the lowest available commercial discount airfare, subject to certain exceptions as provided in Circular A-21 Section J.48.c.
  • The Fly America Act of 1974 (http://www.tvlon.com/resources/FlyAct.html) requires that a US flag air carrier must be used even when a lower cost or more convenient airfare is available through a foreign air carrier, subject to the exceptions outlined in Section V of the Act.

If the source of funding is a Federal contract there may also be limitations on the maximum per night rate for lodging.  Note that in these cases the traveler may be able to request the government lodging rate when travelling for project purposes.