Principles of HSC core facilities operations and partnerships with departments
The HSC Core Facilities are maintained in order to provide access to the capability provided by sophisticated instrumentation and to high-level expertise that are essential to the success of faculty research. The goal is to enable excellent science as assessed by faculty recognition, impactful publications, and external funding. Advantages over maintaining equipment solely within a lab or a department can include access to high-level expertise, shared costs on purchase, shared costs for maintenance through engagement of a larger group of users, professional-level maintenance, and increased potential for future support from instrumentation grants (NIH S10 awards strongly favor Core Facilities). In order to keep pace with the rapidly advancing opportunities of health science research, Core Facilities require continual investment and close partnership with departments and faculty, as well as fiscally responsible management.
User fee levels are used to support service contracts and associated director/staff time. They are not used to recoup the cost of an instrument or to support the purchase of new instrumentation. Depending on circumstances, individual Cores may require a subsidy to break even. User fee structures that project need for a subsidy must be approved by the HSC Cores Director with input from the Faculty Advisory Committee and administrative staff.
Circumstances during which Cores should be subsidized from central funds include: (i) When building new capability in advance of anticipated high demand, as justified by assessment of scientific trends and emerging scientific opportunity. (ii) Where a Core Director provides high-level expertise that is not amenable to a charge-back system but enables impactful science by U of U investigators.
In consultation with the Faculty Advisory Committee, the value of user fees will be assessed at least annually to ensure optimization between access, excellence, and cost recovery. A default expectation is that user fees will increase each year in line with inflation.
Although the primary function is to enable U of U investigators to perform excellence science, the Cores may also serve external users. These include academic users who would pay user fees at the same rate as U of U investigators but with the addition of current U of U F&A. They also include commercial users who would pay at a higher rate, as determined by the market.
A critical factor in the success of essentially all Cores is close partnership between the Core Directors, who provide excellent service and technical expertise, and the faculty leaders of user groups who help set scientific direction. Each Core should have a faculty/user advisory committee (FAC) that meets twice a year with the director to discuss progress and future needs and opportunities, including staffing levels, quality of service, need for additional instrumentation, and opportunities to enhance technical capability such as by applying for external instrumentation grants and U of U Research Instrumentation Funds awards. The steering committee provides written reports to the HSC Core Leadership after each meeting.
In general, instruments in Core Facilities will be covered by service contracts, although the Cores have discretion to determine whether or not service contracts should be purchased in individual cases. As appropriate, such as where an instrument was donated or purchased by a partnering department, the relevant users and partners may have the opportunity to provide additional funds to cover service contract costs if user fees are insufficient. If the Cores determine that it is no longer appropriate to maintain a specific instrument that was purchased or donated by a department, the partnering department would generally have first right of refusal to take the instrument.
Support of non-core instruments and services:
The Cores are under no obligation to support instruments outside of the Core. Assistance may be provided, if it does not compromise Core operations, on the basis of full-cost recovery +10%, including time (minimum of one hour) provided by Core Staff. There is no warranty on the outcome of repair or maintenance work done by Core Facility personnel on instrumentation that is not part of the HSC Cores.
HSC Cores may offer administrative and billing assistance to recharge centers that are outside of the Cores, at the standard rates charged to all cores. For example, when an instrument is owned by a PI, Department, or Center.
Partnership agreements: Purchase of new equipment:
Where appropriate, it is encouraged that when departments purchase sophisticated instrumentation they do so through the Core Facilities and that the purchase includes an extended multi-year warranty/service agreement. This assumes that the Cores agree that there is a practical financial model for maintenance and operation of the instrumentation, and that the Department agrees that the plan for operations is appropriate for their needs. In some cases, partial matching funds may be available through the Cores. Further cost sharing through additional partnering departments, PIs, or initiatives, etc, is encouraged. Regardless, of the exact source of funding, the instrumentation becomes the property of the Core Facility (which is responsible for maintenance) and is subject to Cores policies for operations, scheduling and user fees.
Partnership agreements: Donation of existing equipment to the Cores:
The Cores are not obliged to accept donated equipment, but may do so when judged to be an effective and financially responsible way to advance scientific excellence. The donated instrument will be transferred to the HSC Core inventory. The Core Facility will be responsible for maintenance. The instrument will be subject to Cores policies for operations, scheduling and user fees.
Partnership agreements: Guaranteed access time:
- Departments/PIs contributing to the purchase of an instrument or donating an instrument to the core may negotiate a guaranteed fraction of available instrument time for a defined time period (e.g., 3 years).
- The definition of available time should be stated for each agreement. This will depend upon the specific instrument and nature of its use. For example, in some cases it may correspond to week-day working hours (9-5, Monday-Friday) except holidays and time that the instrument is inoperable, such as due to maintenance, upgrades, or failure. Available time does not include periods of routine or unscheduled maintenance or instrument failure.
- All users pay full user fees, including the partnering Department/PI. This is to align with NIH guidelines.
- The partnering Department/PI will reserve Core instrument time on an equal basis as all other users. However, if the partnering Department/PI is unable to secure the guaranteed access time on this basis, the scheduling mechanism may be adjusted slightly, such as by allowing the partnering Department/PI to schedule time prior to allowing scheduling by other users.
- Guaranteed time will not accrue. If a partnering Department/PI uses less than their guaranteed time during a month, this will not roll over to an increased level of guaranteed time during the following month.
Expansion of capability based on demand:
In cases where sustained saturation of current capacity is clearly demonstrated, Cores may work proactively with major users/departments in partnership to acquire new instrumentation. The primary emphasis for this effort would be through the acquisition of external funding, with internal grants (e.g., RIF) or matching funds as appropriate. The impetus for expanding capability could originate at any time, including the periodic FAC reports, response to a faculty recruitment effort, or Core User or Director assessment of demand/opportunity.