Frequently Asked Questions

A Northeastern University Shared Facility is an operation that charges for goods or services in direct support of the research or academic mission of the University. Share Facilities recover some or all their costs through fees charged to users, including federally sponsored projects, based on established billing rates and actual usage of service. Northeastern recognizes four types of shared facilities: (1) Specialized Service Facility (SSF) with operating expenses over $1M, (2) Shared Research Facility with operating expenses over $100,000 (3) Department User/Resource Facility is the Shared Research Facility within a Department and with operating expenses below $100,000, and (4) Auxiliary Service Unit (Recharge Center)

The flow chart of the review process is below. The detailed review process can be found in Administrative Guidelines from page 6 to page 7.

Shared Research Facility FlowChart

Shared Research Facility should set user fees based on actual costs and actual usages. The detailed process of rate setup is listed in the administrative guidelines. Please refer to the administrative guidelines for more details. The basic principle can help to develop the billing rate is here:

  1. User types must be defined
  2. Federal sponsored users will always get the lowest rate
  3. We can only recover the cost that was generated from operating the facility
  4. Cannot cross-subsidize between user groups
  5. External users may be charged higher rates that include the F&A costs of the Share Facilities

No. The goal for setting up the Shared Research Facility is to create a billing rate that does not cross-subsidize services or user groups. The separated billing rates should be established for each service that represents a significant activity of the shared research facility. The costs and revenues should also be separately identified for each service

The expense budget should include all costs for operating the share facilities, including administrative expenses directly associated with operations of the facility. Please refer to Cost Principle in UG for detailed information and UG Subpart E (§200.468) for Specialized Service Facility. Expense categories include:

  • Salaries, wages, and fringe benefits
  • Materials and supplies
  • Maintenance and repair, including equipment maintenance agreements
  • Rentals and leases, including operating equipment leases
  • Travel & conferences relevant to training and service center management
  • Purchased services/professional fees

Administrative Guidelines also provide detailed information about allowable costs. Please see the page 8 and 9 of Administrative Guidelines for more detail.

Unallowable costs must be excluded from the budget as well as the service center rate calculation and may not be charged to Service Center users. Examples of unallowable costs include, but are not limited to those listed below:

  • Advertising
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Airfare in excess of “coach”
  • Bad debt or uncollected billings
  • Capital equipment purchases
  • Depreciation (Please see the depreciation FAQ below)
  • Donations and contributions
  • Entertainment/Gifts
  • Fines and penalties Memberships
  • General Office Supplies
  • Selling and Marketing Costs
  • Sales tax

General internal users are typically the Federal government (sponsor agreements). Typically, we aim to reach the breakeven, but we understand this is not usually the situation. So, we set up an allowable variance threshold at +/- 15%. Any surplus should be carried forward as an adjustment to the billing rates of the following year or the next succeeding year. Any surplus over 15% should return to users. See NIH FAQ and Administrative Guidelines for more details.

Depreciation is generally considered an allowable cost. However, Northeastern University includes depreciation costs in F&A proposal. Therefore, we do not include the depreciation in the rate for Shared Research Facility.

The same rate schedule must be available to all internal users, so it is not allowed to define a special class of high-volume internal users. However, it is possible to set a threshold number of service units, such that once any user exceeds the threshold, they are charged for the service at a discounted rate. Thus, high-volume users can realize an average discount for the service, even though the rate scheme is available to all users.

Federal guidelines do not generally permit accumulation of facility revenues for specific purchases, although the cost of maintaining equipment in operating condition is allowable. The average annual cost of incidental maintenance may be budgeted in the rate sheet with a reasonable, well-documented estimate. Since such costs will likely occur at irregular intervals, Northeastern will allow facilities to carry over funds for incidental maintenance between financial periods and accumulate them up to a cap (which is typically twice the average annual cost, but may be negotiated). When accumulated funds for maintenance exceed the cap, the facility must reduce its rates or refund the excess maintenance costs to users. Accumulated maintenance funds may only be used for maintenance and replacement of existing parts, and not to acquire new equipment or accessories.

Support for acquisition of new research core equipment comes in several forms at Northeastern: (i) direct purchase from operating funds by a College, Department, Institute, or the Provost; (ii) direct purchase for a core by a College or Department with contribution from the Provost in association with the expressed needs of a faculty hire; (iii) cost sharing of equipment acquired via instrumentation proposals by the Provost with contributions from Colleges, Departments, or Institutes; (iv) purchase using a gift from a donor to Northeastern designated for this purpose; (v) in-kind donation of equipment to Northeastern from an industrial or academic partner.

You can find the NIH Core Facilities FAQ’s here.

Last Updated on December 20, 2021