Participant Support Costs

Definition /  Description

Per the Uniform Guidance, participant support costs (PSC) are direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees in connection with conferences or training projects.  Sponsor approval must be obtained before incurring participant support costs on sponsored awards.  

A participant is defined as the recipient, not the provider, of a service or training associated with a workshop, conference, seminar, symposium or other short-term instructional or information-sharing activity.  Participants may include students, scholars, and scientists from other institutions, individuals from the private sector, teachers and state or local government personnel. Employees of the University of Washington are not eligible to receive participant support.

F&A on participant support costs

The Uniform Guidance states that participant support costs are exempt from F&A on federally sponsored projects. For Non-Federal awards, sponsor-specific and/or award-specific guidelines should be reviewed at the time of proposal to determine if F&A is allowable.  

Unallowable Costs

The intent of participant support is solely to provide financial assistance for participants to attend conferences and training. Unallowable costs include honoraria for guest speakers, expenses for the PI, project staff or collaborators to attend, and payments made to research subjects as an incentive for recruitment or participation in a research project. Costs for hosting the conference or training should be budgeted and charged to the parent budget.  

Some sponsors permit per diem for meals as participant support. For additional policy guidance on allowable costs, please see Post Award Fiscal Compliance’s participant support page

Managing participant support funding

Participant support funding is typically restricted for purpose and exempt from F&A, requiring separately accountability from the rest of the award. If participant support is approved by the sponsor and indicated in the award documents, GCA will create a 0% sub budget at time of set-up and the funding will be allocated to 03-34 (Registration and Conference Fees). Expenditures may be incurred in any of the allowable account codes. 

Do not assume that an unexpended balance on the participant support sub budget may be used to offset a deficit on the parent or other non-participant support sub budgets. If the award agreement restricted the funds for purpose, they may not be used to offset a deficit on the parent budget without written approval from the sponsor. If you are uncertain, please contact GCA Help.

Rebudgeting participant support

Generally, participant support may not be formally or informally rebudgeted without written approval from the sponsor. Please review your award document and/or the sponsor’s terms and conditions.

Participant support costs:

  • are identified specifically on National Science Foundation (NSF) awards.
  • are awarded by other sponsors (but not necessarily referred to as "participant support costs") and tend to be by program
  • are accounted for in separate sub budgets.
  • are budgeted for the full amount under object code 03-34 (registration and conference fees), whereas the actual participant support cost expenditures may post to object codes 03, 04, 05, or 08, as appropriate.
  • are often subject to special sponsor regulations
    • do not allow rebudgeting from the participant support cost category into other categories without prior sponsor approval.
    • may be exempt from facilities and administrative (F&A) costs.
    • require the university to return any unexpended participant support costs to the sponsor.
    • are associated with special programs that provide research experience for participants, such as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) on National Science Foundation grants. Additional sponsor regulations:
      • do not allow participant support costs to be budgeted on REU and RET sub budgets to be spent on non-participant activities.
      • budget allocations cannot offset a deficit in the parent account.

Process Overview/Accounting for Participant Support Costs

  • Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) will request a separate subaccount for NSF awards with participant support costs on the Electronic Funding Action (eFA). Grant and Contract Accounting (GCA) will set up the sub budget.
  • OSP will request a separate subaccount on the eFA for participant support costs for other funding agencies when the sponsor requires special accountability.
  • Participant support costs for REU and RET on NSF awards are set up in REU/RET sub accounts. REU/RET is noted first in the award title.
  • Appropriate indirect costs are charged by entering the appropriate indirect percentage and a specific base in the university's financial accounting system.
  • GCA staff review participant support costs at closing and work with departments to adjust for any discrepancies.

PI/Department Responsibilities

  1. Review award documents at set up, looking for wording similar to "participant support" or "participant costs awarded" to determine if this issue is applicable to your grant.
  2. Check the sponsor's regulations to see if any rules prohibit the university from applying F&A costs to these charges.
  3. If a separate sub budget has not been set up and the sponsor does not allow the university to apply F&A costs to these charges or requires separate accountability for these costs, notify GCA and a separate sub account will be established.
  4. Monitor expenditures for appropriateness throughout the life of the grant.
  5. Work with GCA at closeout.
  6. Obtain written sponsor approval for any rebudgeting into or out of the participant support cost sub budget.