You Can’t Take It With You….But Most of the Time You Can

July 11, 2011

GertyZ has a new post up at Balanced Instability which discusses the joys of Indirect Costs in the context of major grant awards, for our purposes we’ll focus on the NIH grant.
This is not a mere inconvenient detail of little direct importance to the PI, nor is it merely a topic for “Do it to Julia!” type solutions to the
A Twitt-scussion blew up [PP, avert your eyes, everyone else: @GertyZ, @profgears, @DoctorZen, @namnezia, @biochemmebelle, @multi_cellular, @salsb] which focused on the disposition of equipment when a PI left one University to take up a job at another. As we’ve discussed on several occasions, the NIH grant is awarded to the University or other Institution, not the PI who is named in (and in most cases wrote) the application. That means the starting position is quite simple:

The. University. Owns. EVERYTHING. Up to them to set policy RT @saban_lab but if you move will they hold on to that “stuff”?

Since the Twitts seem Googlechallenged today, here is the NIH FAQ “What happens to equipment when the PD/PI moves to another organization?:

The grantee organization is the legal entity to which a grant is awarded. When the PD/PI moves to another organization, the following options apply (1) The grantee organization may request continuation of the project under the direction of an alternate PD/PI. If the alternate PD/PI is approved by NIH, the grant will continue and thus title to the equipment purchased under the grant will remain with the original grantee organization.
(2) The organization may relinquish its interests and rights in the grant to the PD/PI’s new organization. If the new organization is approved by NIH to continue the grant activity, then the grant will be awarded and any equipment purchased with grant funds and still needed for the grant project would be expected to transfer to the new grantee organization, which would assume title. If the original grantee does not voluntarily agree to relinquish equipment with the grant, HHS may require transfer of the equipment as specified in 45 CFR Part 74.34(h).
(3) If an alternate PD/PI is not accepted by the NIH (or no alternate is nominated), and the original grantee refuses to relinquish its rights in the grant to the new organization (or if the new organization is not accepted by NIH to continue the research), then the grant will be terminated. Title to equipment will remain with the original grantee organization, subject to disposition or use as described in 45 CFR Part 74.34. The PD/PI’s new organization may submit a new application through the regular NIH peer review process to request support for the research.
The transfer of a grant to a foreign organization or between foreign organizations requires the additional approval of the National Advisory Council/Board of the awarding NIH IC.

Now, why do you need to know this stuff?
From what I can tell from chatter around the campfire, it is overwhelmingly common that most run-of-the-mill changes of institution are reasonably straightforward. The original host University relinquishes the grant (at the noncompeting anniversary, typically) and the NIH IC approves the transfer to the new University. The PI is permitted to take most of her stuff with her, just so long as she or the new host University pays for moving costs. Even most of the equipment.
The reason you need to think about this is that you cannot expect your original University to act this way. It may be standard practice in the biz. It may be what occurs in the vast, vast majority of cases. But it doesn’t have to be the way your University approaches the issue.
They may decide they want a specific bit of your kit as part of the startup package for your replacement. They may decide that BSD Jones gets to have that bit of lab bling. They may be really, really mad at you for the way you handled the departure* and decide to stick to their rights and keep all your stuff, even if nobody has a use for it. So I’d suggest going with the “ask permission” rather than the “beg forgiveness” strategy if you happen to be changing University appointments.
Extra-big ($$$) kit that is shared amongst multiple investigators is especially unlikely to be relinquished. So is anything that required the building of dedicated facilities or rooms at substantial expense. But you knew that…
If I am reading this official FAQ answer correctly, there should be no problem negotiating future rights to any and all equipment that is “yours” as part of your contract. The wisdom of doing this is, however, pretty low IMO.
ps. One fascinating little bit of the NIH FAQ is the part where they set priorities for how you are supposed to use the equipment purchased under a now-expired award:

When no longer needed for the original project or program, the recipient shall use the equipment in connection with its other federally sponsored activities, if any, in the following order of priority:
(1) Program, projects or activities sponsored by the HHS awarding agency; (2) Program projects or activities sponsored by other HHS awarding agencies; (3) Program, projects or activities sponsored by other Federal agencies.

Which makes sense, even though I’m surprised they bother to specify beyond “any Federal agency”. But the kicker is the part about using this equipment in non-Federally funded activities:

If the grantee no longer needs the equipment for the above purposes, the grantee may retain the equipment for other uses, provided that compensation is made to the original HHS awarding agency or its successor.

Your first question is addressed by a prior comment that there is no depreciation on this equipment so no, it is not formally considered valueless at the end of the funded interval. I would be very interested to learn whether labs that get HHMI funding or some other major nonFederal support actually compensate the NIH for all that equipment that has been bought on the Federal dime all those years. Very interested indeed.
*If they find out you are leaving because moving trucks are at your lab building and inventoried equipment is being carried out by beefy, sweaty types….this may not work out in your favor.

6 Responses to “You Can’t Take It With You….But Most of the Time You Can”

  1. biochembelle Says:

    So basically, if you are moving for one reason or another, negotiate with future institution as though you’ll be taking nothing with you. Then if current institution lets you take some of your equipment, it’s just an added bonus and more $$ you can spend on ‘wants’ or upgrades.


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    Exactly biochembelle, exactly. I’ve definitely heard of cases in which the PI appears to have promised the new Uni that she/he was going to be taking certain things along. Seems unwise to me until and unless you have the original University’s okay.


  3. whimple Says:

    These things can also be negotiated. With a cooperative current institution you can sometimes pay some multiplier of a depreciated cost to take capital equipment with you.


  4. We had this play out at our institution with two PI’s that left. One of them had a program grant that the university would not let them leave with. And the second had some equipment that they wanted to take but other labs were using and so the administration deemed it must be left behind.


  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    There’s one answer to your question about PIs that survive solely on Big Mechanism grants, GR….reduced flexibility to leave one’s University.


  6. Eli Rabett Says:

    GR: No one is going to let Center/Program grants leave. What they may do is agree to give a subcontract for the PI’s share of the research to the new institution if they think the PI is necessary for the non competing renewals.
    As to shared instrumentation, that decision was likely “motivated” by the colleagues using the instruments, not the administration.


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