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Volunteer for Science Program Questions and Answers

Downloadable forms

Emergency Care for Minors Form (PDF, 12K)
Specifies who to contact in case a minor volunteer is injured.

Volunteer for Science Program Q&A

The following information provides answers to the most frequently asked questions relating to the Volunteer for Science Program. Questions range from routine matters, such as the proper form to use for a volunteer service agreement, to more complex issues, such as whether volunteers may be used in hazardous assignments. The Volunteer for Science Handbook provides more detailed information on the Volunteer for Science Program.

1. How is a volunteer opportunity announced?

The USGS is part of, a new interagency Web portal for volunteer recruitment. The Portal enables Volunteer Coordinators to post positions online and to review applications submitted from volunteers throughout the nation. All USGS volunteer opportunities should be posted using this Portal. Please contact Cheryl Smith,, the Bureau Volunteer Coordinator, for assistance in posting new or ongoing volunteer opportunities.

2. How will the volunteer opportunities be input into the Web site?

The Bureau Volunteer Coordinator will set up access to the opportunity portion of the Web site for an authorized representative. The representative will have password protected interface and may enter information on the job opportunity.

3. How does Volunteer.Gov work?

Volunteer opportunities may be searched by the following criteria: volunteer activity, location of opportunity, effective date of the opportunity, the sponsoring partner, and by keyword search.

4. What happens once the volunteer identifies a potential opportunity?

An individual who wants to apply for a volunteer position may choose an opportunity on the list and then review the detailed description. The detailed description will provide instructions as to how to apply for the position. Once the application is completed, the agency Volunteer Coordinator will be notified of the potential volunteer.

5. If there are several applicants for a volunteer assignment, must the applicant who seems to have the best qualifications on paper be chosen?

No. It is the supervisor's decision to fill the position based on several considerations; including experience, education, interest, motivation, and personal interview. The supervisor is not required to fill the position based strictly on the qualifications of the individual.

6. Must a special form be used to document the acceptance of volunteer services?

Yes. Form OF-301A, Volunteer Services Agreement (Rev 2010), must be completed in WebForms (under Other Forms) for anyone that volunteers (WebForms requires log in). The Agreement must be prepared by the USGS project supervisor requesting the services of the volunteer and must be signed by the project supervisor and the volunteer. Parental or guardian approval is required for minor volunteers. For some activities, the approval or concurrence of safety officers is required. The Agreement should be maintained in the office files for 3 years after termination of volunteer service.

7. Is it necessary to prepare the Form OF-301A, Volunteer Services Agreement, for someone who will volunteer for only a few hours?

Yes. The signed Agreement is the official document that validates volunteer service in case of an injury or tort claim. The Agreement protects both the volunteer and the USGS.

8. May noncitizens participate in the Volunteer for Science Program?

Yes. A noncitizen may volunteer for the USGS provided the individual is:

  1. A legal, permanent resident of the United States or on a working visa.
  2. Pursuing a full course of study at an academic institution and the academic institution has granted the individual permission to engage in volunteer activity with the USGS.

Foreign nationals may not be invited by the USGS to enter the United States or any other country for the purpose of participating in the Volunteer for Science Program. A supervisor or manager wishing to accept volunteer service from a foreign national who resides outside of the United States must contact the respective organizational Exchange Visiting Scientist Program Coordinator at:

9. May students receive academic credit for their volunteer work?

It is the decision of the educational institution whether to give credit for a student's volunteer work. Supervisors of volunteers are usually willing to provide the necessary job descriptions and assessments of the student's work. Students are personally responsible for making the arrangements with the educational institution and the supervisor.

10. May I add my volunteer service to my resume or job application?

Yes. The experience, knowledge, and skills gained as a volunteer are applicable to many paid positions in both the public and private sectors. Volunteer work often demonstrates personal initiative, enthusiasm, and dedication to prospective employers.

11. Does serving as a volunteer for a Federal agency make it easier to obtain a job in the Federal government?

Federal positions are filled through a competitive process and are based on many job-related factors. The volunteer assignment may enhance qualifications for a position, but it does not guarantee selection.

12. Will the USGS accept the services of a volunteer who is employed by an external source?

Yes. There may be cases in which an employer, such as a professional society or a private industry firm, wishes to donate the services of a paid employee to the USGS. In these cases, the individual may receive pay or work credit from the outside source, but the USGS cannot compensate the individual or the outside organization for the services. The Volunteer Services Agreement must be signed by both the volunteer and the employer who is donating the paid services. The Agreement should reflect the name of the organization and the name, title, and signature of the employer donating the services.

13. May a USGS employee volunteer?

Yes. A USGS employee may serve as a volunteer within the USGS as long as the services performed as a volunteer are not the same types of duties for which the employee is paid. For example, a hydrologic technician may not volunteer to collect hydrologic data, make and compute streamflow measurements, or make ground water measurements since this work is typically an integral part of the official duties.

14. May the USGS accept volunteer services from someone under 18 years of age?

Yes. Volunteers under age 18 must have the signature of a parent(s) or guardians(s) on the Volunteer Services Agreement and must complete the "Emergency Care of Minors" medical release form located at: Federal and state child labor laws govern the employment of minors and preclude the performance of certain jobs by individuals under the age of 18 years. For more information please refer to the Volunteer for Science Handbook, Chapter 1. Eligibility and Chapter 2. Health and Safety of Volunteers.

15. Should volunteers be permitted to perform hazardous duty assignments?

The USGS is profoundly concerned with the health and safety of its employees, volunteers, contractors, and visitors. No volunteer activity may be performed where careful analysis shows an unacceptable risk to any employee, volunteer, contractor, or visitor. For more information on hazardous duty assignment, please refer to the Volunteer for Science Handbook, Chapter 2. Health and Safety of Volunteers.

16. What is the difference between a Scientist Emeritus and a Volunteer?

Both are volunteers. A Scientist Emeritus (SE) is a retired USGS scientist or technical expert who has demonstrated leadership qualities and contributed to the goals of the USGS during a productive career. An individual who has been a scientist or technical expert may be considered for the SE Program. An individual who does not qualify for the SE Program might consider returning as a Volunteer for Science. Additional information relating to the SE Program and its opportunities can be found at:

17. May volunteers be authorized to travel?

Yes. Volunteers may be reimbursed for actual expenses, such as bus and train fare, gasoline, and parking fees, while traveling to and from the work site. The distance for which volunteers are reimbursed for such travel expenses must be limited to the local commuting area. If a volunteer is involved in field work or a special assignment that requires travel, expenses may be paid by the USGS. Authorization to pay transportation costs, advance funds, and reimburse long-distance travel expenses must be handled on a case-by-case basis, be justified in writing, and be approved by the appropriate manager or designee. Reimbursement is not meant to function as a salary but rather to offset the volunteer's personal cost of volunteering. Under no circumstances may a volunteer receive a stipend in exchange for volunteer service. For further information, please refer to the Volunteer for Science Handbook, Chapter 4. Reimbursement of Incidental Expenses.

18. May a volunteer drive a government-owned or -leased vehicle?

Yes. Volunteers may operate Government-owned or –leased vehicles if they possess a valid state driver's license, are at least 18 years of age, and complete the 8-hour Defensive Driving Training. For further information, please refer to the Volunteer for Science Handbook, Chapter 6. General Guidelines.

19. May the USGS pay for government and non-government training courses for volunteers?

Yes. Payment may be authorized if a manager or supervisor determines that specific training is required to perform the duties of the volunteer assignment; e.g., safety training, and that the benefits of the volunteer service outweigh the training costs.

20. Is there a special USGS identification card or building pass that can be issued to volunteers?

Yes. Volunteers are subject to at least a minimum of a fingerprint check if they will be working less than 180 days. A successful fingerprint check will allow the volunteer to obtain a temporary access badge. If the volunteer will be working more than 180 days, please contact your Security Office .

21. What happens if a volunteer is injured or has an accident or damages private property or injures someone while serving as a volunteer?

Volunteers are covered under the Federal Employees Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. Chapter 81, which authorizes compensation for work-related injuries. Volunteers are, also, covered under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which protects them from liability for injury or damage to others while they are acting within the scope of their assigned duties. For further information please refer to the Volunteer for Science Handbook, Chapter 5. Volunteer Benefits and Protections.

22. May a volunteer use laboratory facilities or government equipment?

Yes. A volunteer's use of laboratory facilities and government equipment must be in conjunction with an approved USGS project or assignment and not for the purpose of completing educational requirements. Volunteer use of government equipment, materials, and supplies are under the same guidelines as USGS employees. Controlled property and equipment must remain the supervisor's responsibility.

23. May a volunteer work unsupervised after hours?

Yes. With the approval of the supervisor, volunteers may work unsupervised after hours. The volunteer must be provided with an identification card to permit after hours access to a government building. For additional information, please contact your Security Office .

24. May a volunteer perform services for the USGS at home?

Yes. With the approval of the supervisor, volunteers may perform services for the USGS at home. An appropriate manager should determine whether the services to be rendered by the volunteer may be adequately accomplished at home, taking into consideration such things as the need to use special government equipment or manuals.

25. May volunteers enter private property, when necessary, to conduct their assignments?

Federal employees and volunteers must comply with all Federal, state, and tribal laws, including trespass and privacy laws. Volunteers are not to enter private property unless authorized by their supervisor. Supervisors are responsible for obtaining appropriate permission to enter private property.

26. Are volunteer services tax-deductible?

Volunteers are advised to contact their tax accountant or consult Internal Revenue Service Publication 526 for information and guidance.

27. When is it appropriate to amend the Volunteer Services Agreement (OF-301A)?

The Volunteer Services Agreement must be amended whenever there is a change in the original conditions of the volunteer assignment, such as change in duties, authorization of travel and/or incidental expenses, or physical requirements. A change may be made directly on the original document on the Continuation Page. Both the appropriate USGS official and the volunteer must sign and date the change to indicate acknowledgement.


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Page Last Modified: Thursday, 01-May-2014 14:26:18 EDT