ORED Senior Cost Accountant Contributes Across Campus, Behind the Scenes
OSP senior cost accountant’s work across campus and behind the scenes helps ORED prepare important proposal
Heather Taff is a third-generation University of Idaho alumna and nine-year UI employee who was born and raised in Idaho. She knows the university well — but not just because she’s from here. As a senior cost accountant for the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP), she’s walked 2.5 million square feet of the Moscow campus.
In fall 2016, Taff and staff members from UI Facilities Services spent four months examining the purpose and use of all research- and education-related spaces on campus. They visited labs, offices and classrooms, meeting with faculty, staff and students.
“We got to go into these spaces and meet a lot of the researchers,” Taff said. “They got to tell us about what they’re doing. It’s so cool to hear what they’re doing in those spaces — so much better than just seeing it on paper.”
For Taff, this space utilization survey is a major component of her main task: preparing the university’s rate proposal for Facilities and Administrative costs, also known as F&A or indirect costs.
F&A costs include facilities, administrative offices and personnel that support research and other activities at the university, but aren’t connected to any one specific project. When government agencies, industry partners or others sponsor research, education or service activities, part of the funding goes toward F&A.
Universities are required to undertake a complex and careful process for determining F&A rates, then present a proposal to the federal government.
That’s where Taff comes in. The extensive survey of UI spaces is a key part of the formula she uses to propose a reasonable F&A rate that helps the university recover the costs it puts into those facilities.
“It’s the most critical part of our process and the most difficult to get accurate,” she said.
Taff enjoyed the opportunity not only to gather this important data, but also to help others on campus establish a friendly connection with OSP, which is part of the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED).
“I want to make sure that interactions I’m having with people are positive for both sides,” she said. “I want to enable people to do their work. If that means a little extra effort on my part, I’m up for that.”
The space survey information also will help the university and ORED in strategic planning, as well as support an OSP project to identify core equipment on campus.
In addition to her work with the F&A proposal and space survey, Taff also is on OSP’s team for establishing and managing service centers. She works one-on-one with service center managers and fiscal personnel to help develop and review the center’s charge-out rates for compliance with federal regulations.
Taff knows her work, and OSP’s in general, is often considered behind the scenes at the university — but she doesn’t mind.
“The fact we are somewhat invisible reflects positively on us,” she said. “We are supposed to be behind the scenes, and our job is to make faculty and staff members’ jobs easier and better, to remove that administrative burden so they can do their research and the things they do to make this institution better.”