Survey Manual

500.23 - Volunteer Service Acceptance

This chapter provides guidance for acceptance of volunteer service by the  U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as provided in the current Department of the Interior Appropriations Act.

Date: 6/29/11

 OPR: Office of Human Resources  

Instruction:   This chapter is updated with current guidance.

1.  Purpose. This chapter provides guidance for acceptance of volunteer service by the  U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as provided in the current Department of the Interior Appropriations Act.

2.  Authorities.

A.  43 U.S.C. 1475b, Volunteer Authority.

B.  43 U.S.C. 50c, Payment of Costs Incidental to Utilization of Services of Volunteers.

3.  Objectives.  Acceptance of volunteer service from public or private sources can contribute significantly to the accomplishment of USGS mission programs.  The Volunteer for Science Program is specifically designed to:

A.  Increase public awareness, understanding, and acceptance of scientific programs conducted by the USGS.

B.  Use volunteers, when appropriate, as members of local teams or networks for monitoring and observing scientific phenomena.

C.  Use volunteers to disseminate information regarding USGS programs and earth science in general; e.g., earthquake and volcano hazards and prediction projects.

D.  Utilize individuals with specialized scientific skills and knowledge for advisory purposes or to conduct or engage in special projects when such skills are not readily available in the organization.

E.  Provide for the interchange of scientific information in an atmosphere of mutually supportable scientific investigations.

4.  Policy.

(1)  SM 500.25, Scientific Integrity, establishes USGS policy for ensuring scientific integrity in the conduct of scientific activities and procedures for reporting, investigating, and adjudicating allegations of scientific misconduct by USGS employees and volunteers.  Volunteers who engage in scientific activities must comply with USGS and Federal requirements to maintain scientific integrity and must not engage in fabrication, falsification, plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing scientific activities and their products.  Volunteers must abide by the USGS Code of Scientific Conduct.  (See Section 8 below.)

(2)  It is the policy of the USGS to accept volunteer service from citizens or noncitizens subject to the limitations and the conditions described in this chapter.  To be accepted, volunteer service must be gratuitous in nature, and the USGS must not be obligated in any way to the participants. Volunteer service may not be used to displace any employee or to staff a position which is a normal part of the USGS work force.

5.  Definitions.

A.  Volunteer for Science Program.  The designated title of the USGS volunteer service program is described in this chapter.

B.  Volunteer.  Any individual, citizen, or noncitizen that performs a service for the USGS on a voluntary basis and receives no pay from the USGS (except reimbursement for incidental expenses).  It does not matter if the individual receives pay, work credit, academic credit, or other types of compensation from sources outside of the USGS as long as the USGS does not compensate the individual for the services performed.  All volunteers must complete the Form OF-301A.

C.  Supervisor.  A USGS staff member who is directly responsible for the service the volunteer is performing.

D.  Volunteer Services Agreement for Natural Resources Agencies (OF-301A).  Describes the service and the conditions under which the service is provided by the volunteer and is to be signed by the volunteer, supervisor, and other appropriate Bureau representative; e.g., safety officer.  The parent(s) or guardian(s) and project leader are required to sign if the volunteer is a minor.  

E.  Incidental Expenses.  Expenses related to the effective use of volunteers, such as but not limited to, training, transportation, lodging and subsistence, equipment, and supplies.

6.  Responsibilities.

A.  Supervisors and Managers.

(1)  Identify appropriate opportunities and prepare written descriptions of the services to be performed through use of the Volunteer for Science Program.

(2)  Exercise primary responsibility for adherence to program requirements as stipulated in this chapter.

(3)  Responsible for obtaining the OF-301A from the  participants and maintaining the documentation during the period of volunteer services performed by the participants and in accordance with the Handbook for Managing USGS Records432-1-H.

(4)  Completing a Job Hazards Analysis, as described in the USGS Occupational Safety and Health Program Requirements Handbook, 445-2-H, Chapter 15, Job Hazards Analyses, to document the job risk, risk factors, and actions taken to minimize or eliminate the volunteer’s exposure to hazardous or potentially hazardous conditions. 

B.  Volunteers

(1)  Volunteers are responsible for clearly understanding the nature and requirements of the services for which they volunteer and the terms of OF-301A.  See the Volunteer for Science Handbook, 500-23-H, for further guidance. 

(2)  Volunteers engaged in scientific activities are subject to the USGS Code of Scientific Conduct and SM 500.25, Scientific Integrity.

7.  Volunteer Eligibility.

A.  Scientist Emeritus.  The purpose of the Scientist Emeritus (SE) Program is for retired USGS senior scientists/experts to volunteer their expertise, intellect, and creativity in efforts that allow them to remain active in the science community, enhance the programmatic activities of the disciplines, and serve the public. The SE Program is open to all scientists and technical experts who have demonstrated leadership qualities and contributed to the goals of the USGS during a productive career.

B.  Individuals and Groups.  Public or private groups and individuals are eligible to be volunteers and perform voluntary services for the USGS.  Community organizations, schools, or private sector employers can donate the group or individual services of their members or employees.  Likewise, private citizens and noncitizens can donate their services as individuals.

C.  USGS Employees and Family Members or Other Relatives.

(1)  A USGS employee can serve as a volunteer within the USGS as long as the services being performed as a volunteer are not the same type of duties for which the employee is paid.  For example, a hydrologic technician cannot volunteer to collect hydrologic data, make and compute stream flow measurements, or make groundwater measurements since this work is typically an integral part of his or her official duties.  However, the volunteer could assist with disseminating earth science information to the public or serve as a network observer of scientific phenomena in the neighborhood of residence.  Volunteer service by a USGS employee must be performed during non-duty time.  The servicing human resources office should be consulted before employees volunteer their services. 

(2)  Immediate family members and other relatives of USGS employees may serve as volunteers.  They may work in the same office or on the same assignment with the USGS employee but the OF-301A cannot be signed by the related USGS employee, and the USGS employee cannot authorize the reimbursement of travel expenses or the payment of per diem to a volunteer to whom the USGS employee is related. 

D.  Minimum Age.  There is no minimum age requirement for participation in the Volunteer for Science Program.  A volunteer under the age of 18 years must have the written consent of a parent or guardian.

8.  Ethics.

(1)  Volunteer service must be undertaken for the purpose of accomplishing the USGS mission and with an understanding that volunteers must follow ethics rules as a condition of receiving and retaining volunteer status with the USGS.  (See "Volunteer for Science Handbook, 500-23-H, Chapter 3, Ethics", for further guidance.)
(2)  Volunteers may not use their volunteer status for personal financial gain or the gain of another person or entity.

(3)  Work performed by a USGS employee as a volunteer must not constitute a conflict of interest, financial or otherwise, or violate any ethics statutes or regulations.  USGS employees must avoid any conflicts of interest or the appearance of loss of impartiality in the performance of their official duties.

(4)  Decisions relating to the implementation, continuation or termination of a volunteer services agreement of an immediate family member or other relative may not be made by a USGS employee related to a volunteer.

(5)  The USGS Ethics Office should be consulted regarding conflicts of interest or other ethical concerns.

9.  Utilization of Volunteers.

A.  Volunteers can be utilized to perform virtually any type of service as long as it is service that:

(1)  Would not otherwise get done during a particular fiscal year because of funding or personnel limitations.

(2)  Would provide paid employees the opportunity to accomplish work that would not otherwise get done during a particular fiscal year because of funding or personnel limitations.

(3)  Does not result in the displacement of a paid employee.

B.  Volunteers may donate their services for a few hours each day, a day, a month or more, or for a period extending into years.  They may volunteer to complete one project or several different projects at different times.

C.  Use of Government-Owned or -Leased Vehicles.  Volunteers can operate Government-owned or –leased vehicles if they possess a valid State driver's license and are at least 18 years of age.  For volunteers whose services will include the operation of a Government-owned or –leased vehicle, please see SM 409.1, Personal Property – Vehicle Management.

D.  Examples of Volunteer Services.  Volunteers are not limited to the performance of the following services, but they may be utilized to:

(1)  Obtain rainfall data and observe landslide evidence or other physical phenomena.

(2)  Provide administrative support and assistance in the coordination of conferences.

(3)  Disseminate literature, bulletins, or related information regarding earthquake hazards in locations such as schools or shopping centers.

(4)  Provide advisory services to USGS personnel in the analysis of various earth science problems when specialized technical skills or assistance is not readily available within the USGS.

E.  Constraints.

(1)  No volunteer should be required to perform any type of service that he or she does not feel comfortable doing or does not willingly agree to do.

(2)  Volunteers who are assigned to operate machinery or equipment; e.g., chain saws, power shop tools, specialized equipment or vehicles, etc., must first demonstrate their proficiency in the operation of that equipment to the satisfaction of the responsible supervisor and safety officer and receive appropriate training prior to the operation of the equipment.

(3)  Volunteers should not be assigned to hazardous conditions, such as those that would qualify a paid employee for hazardous duty pay.  Any use of volunteers for services considered hazardous for Federal pay purposes must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the volunteer's training and qualifications to perform such services.  The volunteer's age as well as Federal, state, and local laws governing the employment of minors must also be considered.

(4)  Volunteers cannot handle Government funds.  The Comptroller General, in response to a   U.S. Forest Service inquiry, ruled that volunteers are specifically prohibited from collecting monies and fees owed to the U.S. Government (Decision #B-207731, April 22, 1983).

(5)  Volunteers are not authorized to make any commitments or promises of any kind that could be interpreted to bind the Government or create any financial obligation on the part of the USGS.

(6)  Access to Public Lands.  In accordance with the Department of the Interior Volunteer Recruitment Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-125), a USGS official or employee charged with supervising a USGS volunteer must obtain appropriate consent to enter private property from the property owner prior to the USGS utilizing volunteer services or volunteers for USGS activities conducted on private lands.

9.  Volunteer Services Agreement for Natural Resources Agencies (OF-301A).

A.  When a determination is made on the specific service a volunteer will perform; e.g., time commitments, official starting date, etc., a Volunteer Services Agreement for Natural Resources Agencies, OF-301A, must be prepared and include a brief description of the services to be performed and include as an attachment a Job Hazards Analysis.  The OF-301A is the document that officially establishes the individual as a volunteer providing service to the USGS.  The agreement must be completed and signed by both the volunteer and the appropriate supervisor or USGS official before the individual can perform any volunteer service for the USGS.  This requirement also applies to USGS employees who wish to volunteer.  For volunteers under 18, this form must be signed by at least one parent or guardian, but preferably both as the case may be.

B.  The agreement must accurately reflect, at all times, the service to be performed by the volunteer.  The agreement and voluntary service provided may be terminated by either the volunteer or the USGS at any time by completing the appropriate section in the agreement, indicating an effective date for termination and the signatures of both the volunteer and the appropriate USGS official. 

10.  Volunteer Status.  Individuals participating in the USGS Volunteer for Science Program are not Federal employees; however, they are governed by the provisions described below.  (Note:  The provisions below also apply to Federal employees for the time frame in which they serve in a volunteer status.) 

A.  Volunteers, citizens, and noncitizens are entitled to benefits under the Federal Tort Claims provisions published in 28 U.S.C. 2671 through 2680.  Claims arising as a result of volunteer participation are to be administratively processed by the Bureau in accordance with regulations of the Department of Justice, 28 U.S.C. 2672.

B.  Volunteers, citizens, and noncitizens may be entitled to benefits under the provisions of Title 5 U.S.C. 81 relating to compensation for injuries sustained during the performance of volunteer services.  Entitlements are contingent upon the application of State laws and statutes.  Claims should be referred to the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, through the servicing human resources office, for adjudication.

11.  Reimbursement for Incidental Expenses.

A.  The USGS has authority to pay costs incidental to the utilization of services contributed by volunteers, citizens, or noncitizens.  Volunteers can be reimbursed for incidental expenses; e.g., travel expenses and per diem, incurred as a result of their volunteer activities.  However, it is important to note that these are volunteer activities and while there is authority to pay incidental expenses, reimbursement is not mandatory.  Reimbursement is not meant to function as a salary but rather to offset the volunteer's personal cost of volunteering.

B.  Volunteers can be reimbursed for actual incidental 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 travel expenses should be limited to the local commuting area. Authorization to reimburse volunteers for local travel expenses must be handled on a case-by-case basis, be in writing, and be approved by the appropriate cost center manager or his/her designee.  This authority can be redelegated.

C.  Volunteers can be reimbursed for training, lodging, subsistence, equipment, and supplies. For example, reimbursement can be made for incidental expenses relating to training in field safety and data-collection techniques; travel to field locations; lodging and subsistence while located away from the volunteer's place of residence; and basic equipment and supplies. Authorization to reimburse volunteers for long-distance travel costs must be handled on a case-by-case basis, have a written justification, and be approved by the appropriate cost center manager or his/her designee.

D.  USGS policy does permit payment of travel-related expenses for volunteer service provided by the relative of an employee who is participating on a joint project or assignment with the employee.  However, the appropriate cost center manager or his/her designee may approve such expenses in exceptional cases.

E.  International Travel.  International travel for volunteers must be requested and authorized in accordance with USGS and Interior guidelines.  (See Chapter 4 of the Volunteer for Science Handbook,500-23-H.)  Consult the appropriate cost center administrative officer or the Office of Accounting and Financial Management for assistance.

12.  Security Investigation.  A security investigation is required if a volunteer is to be given work assignments of a critical or noncritical, sensitive nature.

13.  Safety.  Volunteers must observe the same safety precautions and be trained in the use of the safety equipment as required of the permanent work force.

14.  Equal Opportunity.  The USGS is committed to a continuing affirmative action program designed to promote equal employment and treatment of employees.  That commitment extends to the selection of volunteers, despite the fact that they are not deemed to be employees, in the hope that the volunteer experience might inspire interest from minorities and females in USGS programs and activities.

/s/ Karen D. Baker                                                                                          June 29, 2011
_______________________________________________              _____________________
Karen D. Baker                                                                                                   Date
Associate Director for Administration and Enterprise Information