Justification Nation – Part 1: Why Do We Write Budget Justifications in the First Place?

images (1)I love writing budget justifications – LOVE them. It’s easy to think that the budget justification should be written last, when the proposal is almost done. But if you do that, you’re minimizing the strategic importance of the budget justification’s ability to reinforce the aims of a scientific proposal. A well written justification supports the science – and shows that the investigator has a reasonable and realistic plan to achieve their aims. A scientist with his or her “budgetary” wet finger in the air is unlikely to get funded, no matter how fabulous the idea.

A savvy research administrator will help his or her PI by outlining the budget justification (along with the budget) as the research plan is taking shape and the subcontracts are coming together – to ensure that everything the PI wants to do is feasible according to Federal cost principles, the funding announcement requirements, the agency’s general requirements and any institutional policies that govern the PI’s activities.

The Budget Justification is a Road Map for How the Project Will be Conducted

If the budget were separated from the proposal, a reviewer should have all the information he or she needs to evaluate the financial resources needed to support a project from the budget justification. It is the only document in the application that maps how the scientific aims of the project relate to the resources needed to successfully execute the work. When I draft a budget justification for a PI, I picture myself much as a lawyer would make a closing argument in a courtroom in front of a judge and jury – here’s where I’m clearly and succinctly presenting the case for my client, in plain language, based on the rule of law. (And I plan on winning the case!)

The Basis for Budget Justifications

  1. To provide documentation regarding the basis for budget calculations and documentation of project costs.
  2. To establish compliance with federal grants management policy and cost principles.
    • Allowability, allocability, reasonableness, and consistency.
  3. To demonstrate that the proposed research meets the specific announcement requirements.
  4. To demonstrate compliance with specific agency regulations or policies.
    • Ex: Documentation of summer salary for NSF vs. NIH summer months; charging salary at the NIH cap
  5. To document institutional processes, policies or standards.
    • Providing template language for the basis of faculty appointments, cost sharing language, etc.

This material is the foundation for budget justifications – everything else is added once these elements are fully established.

Planning Your Budget and Budget Justification

The next step is to ask the following questions:

  • What type of budget justification do you need? (Detailed or Modular?)
  • Will you be constructing draft budgets and draft justifications for subcontractors or consultants?
  • How many personnel will be participating on the project, and what type of personnel will there be?
  1. Faculty
  2. Staff
  3. Post-docs
  4. Research Staff
  5. Students

What type of expenses will this project have?

  1. Equipment
  2. Services
  3. Supplies
  4. Consultants
  5. Other Costs

When you and your PI have discussed the research plan and mapped that against the planned budget, you can begin to outline the budget justification. You’ll have to make some assumptions at first, but your PI will be able to refine your work as you review drafts together.


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