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Unallowable Expenses

What Can't Be Charged to Sponsored Projects

The following items generally cannot be charged to a federal award and should not be included in the project budget submitted to a federal sponsor. Your Post-Award Administrator can help answer any questions regarding these types of items:

  • Postage, unless the project has a separate and extraordinary need for postage, such as a national survey to be conducted by mail;
  • Office supplies;
  • Personal computers, unless they are part of a tagged equipment system or justification as to why they are required to complete the project scope is provided;
  • Individual membership dues to societies;
  • Basic telephone service, local line and equipment charges, and local phone calls;
  • Clerical/administrative salaries, unless a justification as to why such personnel are integral to completion of the project scope is provided.

Most allowable expenses fall into the broad direct-cost categories of personnel, travel, supplies, publication, consultants, subcontracts, tuition/fees remission, and participant support costs. 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 Federal 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 Principal Investigator'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 UK 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. The Fly America Act of 1974 ( 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 outline 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 or per diem. Note that in these cases the traveler may be able to request the government lodging rate when travelling for project purposes.

Who to Contact:

Post-Award Administration

For all questions after your proposal has been awarded, the Post-Award Administration Staff is responsible for managing proposals that have been funded by a sponsoring agency.
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