Revelations of the school's squandeing of funds have overwhelmed those who until now had managed to avert arbitrary caps

WASHINGTON--The political fallout from Stanford University's questionable use of overhead charges for its federally funded research projects appears likely to achieve what a decade of pressure from the White House could not do: place a cap on how much universities can spend on the administrative portion of their indirect costs.

Welcome news for scientists is that such a cap would, in theory, free up an estimated $100 million or more that the government could then plow into greater support for research. At the same time, the imposition of a cap would signal a serious defeat for lobbyists representing the research-intensive universities where many of those scientists work.

Administrators at those universities have opposed past attempts to impose such a cap on the grounds that their institutions need full reimbursement of indirect...

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