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This chapter contains information regarding the procurement of goods and services from both outside vendors and various units within the Smithsonian, covering the following topics:

  • Purchase Methods and Restrictions
  • Shared Expenses
  • Expediting Purchases
  • Equipment Installation, Plumbing, and Electrical Services
  • Telephone Services
  • Equipment
  • Travel Procedures


When equipment, supplies, or services are to be furnished by a company outside the Smithsonian, any of several purchasing methods may be used, in accordance with policy established by the Office of Contracting.  These methods could include the use of a contract, purchase order, unit blanket order, government purchase card, or petty cash.  Strict requirements on purchasing authority, required sources of supply, and full and open competition may apply, depending on the dollar value.  Only a person with delegated purchasing authority from the Director, Office of Contracting (OCON) may award an order or legally commit Smithsonian funds to a purchase.  Unit Directors may request varying levels of procurement authority from OCON.  Principal Investigators should discuss purchasing needs with the unit Procurement Officer, Procurement Agent, or purchase card holder.  Further information on purchasing methods and restrictions is available through the Office of Contracting.

When procurement needs and plans are described in the proposal and approved by the sponsor in the award document, the requirement for competition is considered satisfied.


If more than one account or designated code will bear the cost of an expense, the amount attached to each account should be indicated. Occasionally, Smithsonian units share the cost of equipment and/or office supplies. The proportionate share for each account should be included on the Purchase Requisition.


To expedite the ordering and timely arrival of materials, project directors must:

  • Ascertain that the materials or services are allowable
  • Ensure that the project account has sufficient funds to cover the order
  • Adhere to any specific budget category restrictions
  • Consult sponsor regulations to determine if special approvals are necessary
  • Allow sufficient lead time for complex purchases
  • Verify that the Purchase requisition contains accurate data


A Principal Investigator may call on the Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations (OFEO) to install equipment or provide plumbing or electrical services. The activities must be directly related to the sponsored project, and their funding must be accounted for in the project budget. Ordinary "landlord" type services, such as painting, keys, and renovations are usually unallowable and should be charged to the unit accounts rather than to sponsored accounts. Principal Investigators should call their OSP Grant and Contract Administrator before requesting services from OFEO that will be charged to a sponsored project.


Telephone service is provided to Smithsonian units by the Communications Division, Office of Chief Information Officer, Network Management Division. Costs for installing, moving, or rearranging telephone equipment, specialized equipment, domestic long distance calls placed over the commercial network, and international long distance calls are borne by the individual unit.

Occasionally, expenses for installation of telephone equipment can be charged to a sponsored project. These charges must be directly related to the activities of the project. Funding for such charges must appear in the proposal budget. Long distance project calls may be charged to the contract or grant.  Principal Investigators should identify their calls on the unit bill and sign a copy of the telephone bill.  The Principal Investigator or unit Fund Manager is responsible for sending a copy of the bill to the Office of the Comptroller with a memorandum requesting a cost transfer to the contract or grant account number.

Additional information concerning telecommunications services, funding responsibility, and policies governing installation and use is provided in SD 408, "Telephone, Telegraph, Data and Radio Communications and Directory/Locator Service."


Capital equipment is defined as having a unit cost of $5,000 or more and a life expectancy of two years or more. As with any purchase, Principal Investigators need to verify that the expenses for the equipment are allowable and can be allocated. In addition, before capital equipment is charged to a sponsored project, Principal Investigators should ensure that the award agreement stipulates where ownership of the equipment will rest at the conclusion of the project. If equipment ownership is not delineated in the award agreement, OSP will clarify this issue either by reviewing the policies of the sponsor or by contacting the sponsor to negotiate title. The purchase or equipment is generally restricted if it was not pre-approved by the sponsor.  The Principal Investigator should contact OSP for guidance before making plans to purchase equipment that was not included in the budget (see information on project equipment in Chapter 9 of this guide).


If travel is necessary, the Principal Investigator should be aware of the following procedures:

  • Sponsor Requirements
  • Travel Expense Reports
  • Guidelines for Travel

Sponsor Requirements

Many Principal Investigators include travel funds in the initial budget proposal. During a project, should a Principal Investigator find that travel funds are required that were not included in the original budget, OSP Grant and Contract Administrators can assist in adjustments in the budget (subject to sponsor limitations), or renegotiating with the sponsor.

International travel not included in the original proposal requires a memorandum to the sponsor through OSP, explaining the necessity, estimated costs, dates, and location. The process should be initiated at least one month in advance of travel to ensure timely sponsor approval.

Nearly all sponsors require prior approval for travel outside the continental United States. Smithsonian policies for foreign travel require U.S. flag carriers to be used.

The Smithsonian Travel Service, in accordance with strict procedures, handles all Smithsonian travel arrangements. Requests for tickets and other arrangements should be submitted to Travel Services at least two weeks in advance of a trip to allow adequate approval and processing time.  All travel must be submitted on using Travel Manager, which requires approval of the appropriate unit personnel and the Accounting Finance Unit. 

Travel Expense Reports

Upon return to the Smithsonian, the traveler must promptly submit a Travel Expense Voucher (Form 1064) documenting all expenses, returning any unspent funds, or claiming reimbursement for any costs not covered in advance. Travel Expense Vouchers, along with the original receipts, are submitted to the unit Fund Manager, who should then submit them to their Accounting Service Unit or the Office of the Comptroller. Prompt submission of Travel Expense Vouchers on the appropriate completed forms is required within seven days of return to ensure that charges to the project designated code will be timely.

Unusual travel expenses are claimed in a separate memorandum attached to the Voucher.  If the traveler requests reimbursement for expenses incurred on behalf of other people, the names of the other people and the business purpose of the expenditures must be documented.  If claiming expense on behalf of people not on Smithsonian business, the expenses must be prorated on an equitable basis. If Smithsonian and non-Smithsonian travel are combined, the expenses must be prorated as well.  In all cases, original receipts must be submitted. Refer to Travel Services and the Smithsonian Travel Handbook for further details or see Prism Travel for additional information.

Guidelines for Travel

Principal Investigators should adhere to the following guidelines when traveling:

  • Coach class air fares should be used when available
  • Airport limousines should be used rather than taxis
  • Rental cars may be used when necessary (budget plans should be used)
  • Rooms priced within the Smithsonian per diem rates are usually required (only room expense and tax are reported under "Lodging")
  • Meals and incidental expenses are reported separately and limited to the Smithsonian per diem rates
  • When a private automobile is used, the traveler will be reimbursed on a per-mile allowance basis in accordance with current Smithsonian guidelines (any change in the per-mile allowance will be identified by the Travel Services unit)
  • When a private automobile is used, the charges for mileage and other in-transit costs must not exceed the charges that would have been incurred by the traveler if air coach accommodations had been used
  • Reasonable expense for valet services will be allowed if the traveler is in travel status on project business in excess of four (4) days
  • Original receipts must be submitted
  • Charges for telephone calls made while on project business should be itemized and claimed only if the calls were directly related to the project business

The traveler will not be reimbursed for expenses incurred for personal flight insurance, alcoholic beverages, entertainment, or for any other expenses of a purely personal nature.  


Frequently, the Smithsonian enters into subcontracts with private businesses or academic institutions and/or enters into a consulting contract with an individual to allow the Principal Investigator to complete the terms and conditions of the award agreement.  Sponsor regulations often require prior approval before a subcontract is executed (see Chapter 9 for more information).