Monday, December 17, 2018

SBIR/STTR Contracts - Know Cost "Eligibility" Rules

We use these pages to keep readers up to date on FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) cost principles (i.e. FAR Part 31) and supplemental cost principle regulations from individual agencies (e.g. DFARS or DoD FAR Supplement). Contractors need to understand however that there are many other factors that affect the allowability and eligibility of costs. Contracts and grants often contain specific limitations while agencies themselves impose their own limitations. When it comes to SBIR/STTR programs, things can get very confusing and its necessary to fully understand allowability and eligibility criteria when negotiating contract prices. Here are some examples of competing or conflicting guidance pertaining to SBIR/STTR contracts.

  • Some agencies allow you to purchase equipment as a direct cost on a Phase 1 project while others do not.
  • Some agencies prohibit travel in Phase 1 while others strongly encourage it and even others require it. This leads to "consistency" issues in estimating, recording, and reporting costs.
  • NIH (National Institute of Health) limits Phase 1 indirect rate to 40 percent of all direct costs unless there is an approved rate on a recent Federal project. This 40 percent limitation can result in a significant hardship to small businesses.
  • NSF (National Science Foundation)  limits the combination of fringe benefits and indirect costs to not more than 150 percent of direct labor.
  • All agencies allow profit and commonly refer to 7 percent of total cost. However, some agencies take that to mean that profit cannot exceed 7 percent, others say that means "normally" profit should not exceed 7 percent, while still others say 7 percent is an agency average.

The eligibility of costs is usually mentioned in the agency's SBIR/STTR solicitations but usually requires some "digging" to find them. Before entering into an SBIR/STTR contract, be certain that you fully understand any unique cost eligibility requirements and restrictions that apply and query the contracting officer for others that might not be evident. Phase 1 projects are usually fixed price while Phase 2 are typically cost-reimbursable. Once Phase 1 costs are negotiated, contractors can pretty much spend the contract amount as it sees fit. Not so with Phase 2 projects. Phase 2 projects can cause the most problems to contractors because those contracts become subject to audit.

For some free training resources from the SBIR/STTR folks, see New Resources for Small Businesses Seeking R&D Funding.

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