Join us for our free webinar
Understanding the Financial Strings attached to Your Government Funding Award.
Ready to get started?
Make sure your next government funding proposal is cash flow positive
NEXT WEBINAR • 06/25/2024
"Understanding the Strings Attached to Your Federal Funding Award"

Will Your Indirect Cost Rate Bankrupt Your Business?

February 10, 2019 / Ed Jameson / Blog Posts
Share This:

Mistake #4: Overspending on Indirect Cost Rates

When you receive a Phase II SBIR, STTR, RO1, ARPA-E, BARDA or BAA grant or contract, you need to comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 31, and specifically FAR 52.216-7

After more than 30 years of specializing in government award accounting, we know the mistakes government grantees and contractors make, and how to prevent them. This 10-part blog series, “Top 10 Mistakes Government Awardees Make,” is designed to help you avoid trouble and protect your business.


When you submitted your proposal to your federal funding agency, you either proposed an indirect cost rate or used a safe rate if you proposed to NIH or NSF. When you received your grant, that provisional (aka budgeted) indirect cost rate was embedded into your award.

You have the funding, you are doing the work, incurring expenses, and drawing down from the payment system.

It’s critical to understand that your provisional (budgeted) fringe and F&A rate will not be the same as your actual indirect rate.


Because you have a cost-reimbursable federal grant or contract, you must comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 31. Compliance mandates that you maintain an acceptable accounting system for your government award.

Tracking your actual indirect rates on a monthly basis is part of a FAR-compliant accounting system.


It’s critical for your CFO to not only properly track your indirect cost rates, but to know how to identify when you are experiencing normal, “seasonal” indirect rate fluctuations and when you may be structurally deviating from your financial plan.

By seasonal indirect rate fluctuations, we mean specific timing-only events that create indirect cost rate spiking or dipping, for example:

  • Everyone is highly billable for getting major projects out the door
  • Everyone is highly un-billable taking vacations around the holidays or writing proposals
  • Direct materials to be used over a 12-month period are received in one month

A structural change is more significant/permanent.  Some examples are:

  • Facilities changes
  • Significant spikes or cuts in headcount
  • Changes to expensive material costs

If a structural change is taking place, management must decide if active grants and contracts can be re-budgeted, and what the potential cost impact is on recently completed contracts and grants – and the customer(s) needs to be alerted and approve these changes

Obviously, all grant and contract awards, as well as commercial projects must bear their proportional share of any variance between the provisional and final actual indirect rates, which can run into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Before you consider billing your government customer for those funds, you must consider the potential political ramifications of billing your funding agency vs. absorbing the financial hit.


Talk to an expert.

If you’re concerned about your actual indirect rate and whether it’s tracking properly, do not wait until the end of the year to address it. There are a multitude of ways to help you avoid trouble and expense, and we are well-versed in all of them.

Ready to Learn More? Speak With A Government Funding Award Expert!
Call Now: 781-862-5170 – or – Schedule A Call

Get educated

Learn more about our FAR-compliant accounting system, JamesonWorx and all it offers. Start with this blog and get more details in this one.

To learn more about FAR-compliant job cost reports, including indirect rate tracking, read this blog.

Top 10 Mistakes Government Awardees Make:

  1. Mistake #1: Taking The NIH Safe Rate
  2. Mistake #2: Not Having a Far Part 31 Compliant Accounting System
  3. Mistake #3: Overspending on Direct Costs
  4. Mistake #4: Overspending on Indirect Cost Rates
  5. Mistake #5: Audit Findings
  6. Mistake #6: Spending Too Much on Accounting Staff
  7. Mistake #7: Improper Allocation of Costs
  8. Mistake #8: Not Paying Attention To Agency-Specific Rules
  9. Mistake #9: Timekeeping and Uncompensated Overtime Issues
  10. Mistake #10: Spending Too Much on Accounting When You’re Not a CPA
Ed Jameson, CPA, Managing Partner

I’ve been in practice for over 40 years helping our small business clients procure, manage, and survive audits on more than $6 billion in federal government contract and grant funding. We’ve been featured presenters and panel moderators at Tech Connect’s National SBIR/STTR conferences since 2010, and I’ve presented at the DOD’s Mentor Protégé Summit and present regularly for several state and local organizations.