Best practices: Communication costs

Per OMB Circular A-21 guideline J.9, communication costs related specifically to a project is allowable. The guidelines are available at

Costs incurred for telephone services, local and long distance telephone calls, telegrams, postage, messenger, electronic or computer transmittal services and the like are allowable.

Phone call and the other services mentioned must be specific to a project and benefit the research of the particular project. Telephone calls specific to a project and that can be documented are allowable on a grant. Examples of such would be phone charges specific to survey work, tele-conference charges for collaborators discussing research, local and long-distance charges which can be documented as specific to a project.

All other types of local telephone and yearly line rental cost are unallowable and should be treated as and indirect cost (overhead, F&A), per OMB Circular A-21 guideline F.6.b.(3) and J.18.a (4)

Items such as office supplies, postage, local telephone costs, and memberships shall normally be treated as F&A costs.

“General purpose equipment” means equipment, which is not limited to research, medical, scientific or other technical activities. Examples include office equipment and furnishings, modular offices, telephone networks, information technology equipment and systems, air conditioning equipment, reproduction and printing equipment, and motor vehicles.

There are some exceptions to the yearly line rental, but these are very specific and require documentation showing the dedicated nature of the line costs (e.g., a line dedicated for a survey, a “Center” grant to which dedicated lines are required for “Center” operations). In these cases prior approval is needed. An exception for these types of costs should be clearly recognized and requested for in the project proposal stage, detailing the specific nature of the situation. If not detailed in the proposal stage and approved as an exception at the time of application, then an exception request would be required prior to applying such costs at time of award.