Performing the Partnership Activities
1. When working on a partnership project with others, who is responsible to undertake environmental compliance requirements (e.g., National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Historic Preservation Act, etc.)? Should these be performed prior to entering into an agreement to carry out a specific act, or should they be accomplished when the action is taken?
3. How does a bureau pay for coffee, donuts, sandwiches and small awards/tokens of appreciation needed to keep voluntary partnerships engaged and demonstrate to participants that it values their participation?
1. When working on a partnership project with others, who is responsible to undertake environmental compliance requirements (e.g., National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Historic Preservation Act, etc.)? Should these be performed prior to entering into an agreement to carry out a specific act, or should they be accomplished when the action is taken? (top)
Entering into a partnership relationship does not relieve an agency from its responsibilities to comply with statutes such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and National Historic Preservation Act. In many cases, the partnership activity itself may trigger the need to comply with these types of statutes.
When considering a partnership agreement, care must be taken to make sure that the agreement does not, or does not appear to, commit the agency to a course of action that forecloses compliance with statutory or regulatory provisions. For example, a bureau should not enter into a partnership agreement for the development of a picnic area located in known habitat of an endangered species until: 1) there is a management plan for the site that designates it as a potential picnic area; 2) all NEPA analysis is complete and the preferred alternative for the site is determined to be a picnic area; and 3) a "no affect" or "not likely to affect" determination has been made respecting the impacts of the project on an endangered species. However, it may be possible to enter into smaller scope agreements, e.g., an agreement for drafting a plan for the picnic area to be considered as part of the NEPA alternative analysis. Contingent agreements may also be possible, e.g., assuming the site is approved for use as a picnic area after completion of all environmental compliance, the parties may agree that the partner will construct it. Contingent agreements should expressly recognize outstanding federal compliance obligations, and state that the partner assume all risks in the event that the agreement cannot be implemented.
Some partnerships may undertake activities already approved by existing agency compliance. For example, a national wildlife refuge may work with a friends group to rehabilitate a formerly developed area to reestablish a wetland area. If existing compliance covers the project, the fact that the friends group may partially fund and complete the work would not require additional compliance.
The Solicitor's Office can assist in determining the appropriateness of a proposed partnership agreement in light of outstanding agency statutory compliance obligations.
2. Can agency employees solicit funds or donations for their programs from partner organizations? (top)
Bureaus with gift acceptance authority may tell partners what they need and what their priorities are. They may not directly ask for funds from a partner organization. They may, however, support partners in their efforts to raise funds for the agency by providing information about agency resources and needs.
3. How does a bureau pay for coffee, donuts, sandwiches and small awards/tokens of appreciation needed to keep voluntary partnerships engaged and demonstrate to participants that it values their participation? (top)
The "necessary expense" doctrine generally prohibits agencies from spending appropriated funds for purposes other than those authorized by statute. With respect to small awards/tokens of appreciation, the Department is authorized by a provision in its 1992 Appropriations Act to provide "nonmonetary awards of nominal value to private individuals and organizations that make contributions to Department of the Interior programs." This authority may be used to purchase such items. However, such gifts should not be purchased or given before receiving approval from the Office of the Solicitor, to ensure that this authority is used appropriately.
On the other hand, refreshments such as coffee and donuts are rarely considered appropriate necessary expenses of a bureau program. However, under certain circumstances, a bureau may spend appropriated funds for refreshments. Several bureaus have authorities that support providing refreshments to members of partner organizations, as part of providing authorized subsistence for volunteers. For example, the NPS is authorized to provide for incidental expenses of volunteers including subsistence pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 18h.
4. Can a bureau employee participate in a luncheon meeting of a partner? (top)
Of course, a bureau may participate in a luncheon meeting of a partner. However, generally, the employee should pay for the cost of the meal. Under Federal regulations, an employee may accept a lunch valued at $20 or less from a partner. If the lunch is worth more than $20, the employee must refuse the meal or pay the full cost of the meal. It is not permissible simply to pay the difference between $20 and the cost of the meal.
5. Can appropriated funds be used to provide uniforms and other support costs for partner members? (top)
It may be possible to pay for such items when the partner members are performing volunteer service for the Department, particularly when a bureau has a statute authorizing payment of a volunteer's incidental expenses such as uniforms. A bureau may provide uniforms to non-paid partner employees when funds have been appropriated to an agency for the purpose of providing uniform allowances to persons who serve functions that have high public visibility or contact. A maximum of $400 a year may be expended on uniform allowances. Alternatively, the bureau may provide uniforms, costing an amount no greater than $400 a year, directly to the non-paid partner employees. Some bureaus have rules or policies requiring partner volunteers to be clearly distinguishable from agency personnel.
6. Under what circumstances can an outside organization use a bureau's logo on its publications or web sites? (top)
Any use of a logo must be specifically authorized by the bureau. In determining whether an outside organization may use an official agency logo or other registered mark, the agency must be certain that the logo or mark is not used in a manner that implies an endorsement of the organization's views, products, or services. Additionally, use of the logo should promote agency goals and objectives.