Legal Authorities for DOI International Programs

The Department of the Interior may conduct international activities under the authority of Federal laws and treaties that apply to all U.S. Government international activities. Many of these general authorities are set forth in the following list. Where delegation of authority has been reserved to the Secretary, no Bureau may utilize such authority without an express delegation of that specific authority to the Bureau. However, Bureaus may have the authority to participate in scientific and technical exchanges and other cooperative projects with other countries, provided that such activities directly serve the Bureaus’ missions or are authorized under specific statutory mandates.

The Office of International Affairs and the Solicitor’s Office can help determine the application of, and the most appropriate way to use, these authorities to accomplish partnership goals. Consultation early in the initial partnership planning and discussion stages will help facilitate effective, and legally supportable, achievement of those goals.

Programmatic Authorities 


Assistance to Preserve Biological Diversity (22 U.S.C. §2151q)

To preserve biological diversity, Section 302 of the Special Foreign Assistance Act of 1986 authorizes assistance to other countries to protect and maintain wildlife habitat and to develop sound wildlife management and plant conservation programs. The statute authorizes the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to engage in a series of cooperative activities with foreign nations to conserve biological diversity, in cooperation with and supported by other U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Such activities include information exchanges, training and education, and long-term agreements under which the host country would protect ecosystems or other wildlife habitats recommended by a U.S. Federal agency.

Wildfire Suppression Assistance (42 U.S.C. §1856)

The Wildfire Suppression Assistance Act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to enter into a reciprocal agreement with any foreign fire organization for mutual aid in furnishing wildfire protection resources for lands and other properties for which such Secretary or organization normally provides wildfire protection. The Act allows for reimbursable agreements and provides limited immunity for firefighters in the course of their duties.

International Participation in Scientific, Technical, and Cultural Activities (22 U.S.C. §§2451-2460)

Sections of the State Department's Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Program authorize U.S. representation at international non-governmental scientific and technical meetings, permit U.S. Government agencies to accept foreign nationals for training or other meetings in and out of the U.S.; permit interchanges with other countries of scientists and experts in environmental science and management with approval of the State Department; encourage contributions of funds by foreign governments, international organizations and private individuals and organizations; authorize government agencies and employees to accept funds from foreign governments for activities determined by the State Department to be in the interest of the U.S.; and authorize the State Department to offer grants and contracts for transportation and subsistence for educational and/or cultural exchanges.

International Environmental Cooperation (42 U.S.C. §4332(F))

The National Environmental Policy Act authorizes Federal agencies to lend appropriate support to programs that maximize international cooperation in preventing a decline in the quality of the world environment, when consistent with U.S. foreign policy.

Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol) to the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention)

The SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention elaborates and builds on the general obligation in the Convention, which calls for parties to establish specially protected areas in order to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems, as well as the habitats of threatened or endangered species of fauna and flora. Species of plants and animals that the parties believe require international cooperation to provide adequate protection are also listed in three Annexes developed in implementation of the Protocol. The SPAW Protocol provides mechanisms for strengthened marine, related terrestrial and/or cultural cooperation between State Parties within the Wider Caribbean Region, or Convention area. The Convention area includes the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the adjacent area of the Atlantic Ocean south of 30 degrees north latitude and north of the northern rim of South America, and within 200 nautical miles of the Atlantic Coasts of the signatory countries.  In addition, the SPAW Protocol authorizes each Convention Party to designate the related terrestrial areas (including watersheds) within their borders to be covered by the Protocol. The United States has not designated any terrestrial areas under the SPAW Protocol.

Convention to Combat Desertification

Ratified by the U.S. in 2000, this Convention is intended to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid lands through effective action at all levels. In particular, the Convention addresses the fundamental causes of famine and food insecurity in Africa, by stimulating more effective partnership between governments, local communities, non-governmental organizations, and aid donors, and by encouraging the dissemination of information derived from new technology (e.g., early warning of impending drought) to farmers.

Fish and Wildlife Service

Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. §§1531-1538)

The purposes of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend, to provide a program for the conservation of endangered and threatened species, and to implement certain international treaties. Section 8(b) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. § 1537(b)) encourages international cooperation for the conservation of fish or wildlife and plants, including endangered species and threatened species, and provides for the entering into of bilateral or multilateral agreements with foreign countries to provide for such conservation. Section 8(c) also authorizes the Secretary of the Interior, after consultation with the Secretary of State, to (1) assign or otherwise make available any officer or employee of his or her department for the purpose of cooperating with foreign countries and international organizations in developing personnel resources and programs which promote the conservation of fish or wildlife or plants, and (2) conduct or provide financial assistance for the educational training of foreign personnel, in this country or abroad, in fish, wildlife, or plant management, research and law enforcement and to render professional assistance abroad in such matters.

The ESA also implements certain international agreements to which the U.S. is a Party. One is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which entered into force in 1975 and establishes a system for regulating the international trade in wildlife species which are or may be in danger of becoming extinct as a result of that trade. Another is the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere (Western Hemisphere Convention) which entered into force in 1942. The Western Hemisphere Convention calls for the establishment of protected areas, national parks and wilderness areas, enactment of laws to protect wildlife, and cooperation on scientific research.

Migratory Bird Work in Mexico and Canada (16 U.S.C. §§4401-4412)

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act authorizes migratory bird work in Mexico and Canada and provides funding authority and administrative direction for implementation of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Tripartite Agreement on wetlands between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

International Fisheries Conservation Program(s) (implemented by the Pelly Amendment, 22 U.S.C. § 1978)

This law provides for the restriction of importation of fishery or wildlife products from countries found to diminish the effectiveness of international fishery or endangered or threatened species programs.

Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 (16 U.S.C. §§ 4702, 4721, 4724, 4726) 

The Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 created the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, co-chaired by the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.  The Task Force can provide technical assistance to, review, and enforce interstate invasive species management plans, which can include participation by foreign governments.  Additionally, the Task Force advises the Secretary of State on aquatic nuisance species that infest water resources that the United States shares with foreign countries and on negotiations with the governments of those countries on programs to address such aquatic nuisance species.

Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 (16 U.S.C. § 742g)

This Act provides that the Secretary of the Interior shall cooperate to the fullest extent practicable in providing representation at all meetings and conferences relating to wildlife and (non-marine) fish that involve representatives of the U.S. and foreign countries.  The Secretary of State and other officials with responsibilities for foreign technical and economic assistance shall consult with the Secretary of the Interior regarding all cases involving the interests of fish and wildlife.  Additionally, the Secretary of the Interior is directed to consult with governmental, private nonprofit, and other organizations dealing with fish and wildlife regarding any problems that arise in connection with such fish and wildlife.

Other Statutes Relating to Wildlife

The following are among the statutes that authorize regulatory action, grant-making or other activities in foreign countries, in support of conservation relating to certain wildlife species or groups of species:

African Elephant Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. § 4201 et seq.)

Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994 (16 U.S.C. § 5301 et seq.)

Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (16 U.S.C. §§ 1361 -1421h)

Polar Bear Treaty with Russia and the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (implemented at 16 U.S.C. § 1423h et seq.)

Wild Bird Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 4901 - 4916)

The following are among the statutes authorize grant-making or other cooperative activities in foreign countries, in support of conservation relating to certain wildlife species or groups of species:

Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997 (16 U.S.C. §§ 4261 et seq.)

Great Apes Conservation Act of 2000 (16 U.S.C. §§ 6301 et seq.)

Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004 (16 U.S.C. §§ 6601 et seq.)

Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 6101 et seq.)

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance

This convention (which entered into force for the US in 1986) seeks to preserve wetlands nominated by member countries based on their international significance especially as migratory bird habitats. Everglades National Park was designated in 1988 and there currently are 38 Ramsar designated sites in the U.S. 

National Park Service

Historic Preservation (54 U.S.C. §§ 300101, 303902, 305302, 307101)

Title 54 of the U.S. Code contains recodified sections of the National Historic Preservation Act and other provisions relating to the preservation of historic property, including several providing for international activities.   Section 300101 establishes a policy of the Federal government to preserve historic property, including a policy goal that the United States shall provide leadership in the field of historical preservation, both domestically and internationally. 

Section 307101 provides that the Secretary of the Interior shall direct and coordinate participation by the United States in the World Heritage Convention (WHC), including nomination of properties of national significance to the World Heritage Committee.  Subsection (e) of section 307101 directs the head of any Federal agency having jurisdiction over an undertaking taking place outside of the United States to take steps to ensure that the undertaking has a minimal adverse effect on any properties on the World Heritage List or on the relevant country’s equivalent of the National Register of Historic Places. 

Additionally, Section 303902 of Title 54 directs the Secretary to develop training in professional methods and techniques for the preservation of historic property and for the administration of a historic preservation program.  The Secretary is to make this training information available broadly, including to other nations and international organizations pursuant to the WHC.  Section 305302 established the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.  One purpose of the National Center is cooperating with and facilitating the transfer of preservation technology to international organizations, including the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the International Center for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, and the International Council on Museums.

Authority to Enter Into Cooperative Agreements Promoting the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (54 U.S.C. § 308302(c))

To ensure effective coordination between Federal and non-federal elements of the underground railroad network the Secretary may enter into cooperative agreements and memorandums of understanding with, and provide technical assistance to (1) the heads of other Federal agencies, States, localities, regional governmental bodies, and private entities; and (2) in cooperation with the Secretary of State, the governments of Canada, Mexico, and any appropriate country in the Caribbean.

United States Geological Survey

Examination of geological structure, mineral resources, and products outside national domain (43 U.S.C. § 31(b))

This statute authorizes USGS to "examine the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain" in areas "outside the national domain where determined by the Secretary to be in the national interest." This authority enables USGS, in conjunction with the international authorities on supplies of goods and services listed below, to craft cooperative agreements with international NGOs or arrangements with Foreign Government Entities to carry out mutually beneficial projects within the scope of the USGS mission to assess and study the national domain. These include, for example, projects establishing and maintaining earthquake monitoring stations, mapping of hydrological resources, mapping of mineral deposits and/or vegetative changes, and monitoring effects of climate change.

Collection, Evaluation and Analysis of Information Concerning Mineral Occurrence, Production, and Use (30 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1605)

These provisions emphasize the Department of the Interior’s responsibility, as a “responsible department,” to assess the mineral resources of the Nation. The provisions also require the President to coordinate departments' and agencies' promotion of cooperative research and development programs with other nations for the equitable and frugal use of materials and energy; promotion and encouragement of private enterprise in the development of economically sound and stable domestic materials industries; and facilitation of the availability and development of domestic resources to meet critical materials needs.

Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 (42 U.S.C. § 7704(b)(3))

The Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 directs USGS to conduct earthquake-related research focused on the assessment of earthquake hazards and risks, monitoring of seismic activity, and improvement of earthquake predictions.  As part of its research efforts, the Director of the USGS shall operate a forum for international exchange of earthquake information.  Additionally, USGS has the authority, working with other agencies, to coordinate activities with earthquake hazards reduction efforts in other countries to ensure that U.S. earthquake hazard reduction efforts benefit from relevant information and advances in those countries. 

Administrative or Procedural Authorities Applicable to International Work

Payment and Funds Authorities

Acceptance of Payment from a non-Federal source (31 U.S.C. §1353)

This law authorizes a Federal Agency to accept funds from a non-federal source, including a foreign government, international or multinational organization for travel and related expenses, meetings, training or similar functions relating to the official duties of the employee.

Acceptance of Payment from other Federal Agencies (31 U.S.C. §1535, Pub. L. No. 97-258)

The Economy Act authorizes U.S. Governmental agencies to place an order for goods or services with another agency. It may be used in conjunction with other authorities to transfer funds for an international project.

Allocation or transfer to other agencies of funds appropriated to Department of State; authority for expenditure of funds (22 U.S.C. § 2675)

The Secretary of State may allocate or transfer to any department, agency, or independent establishment of the United States Government (with the consent of the head of such department, agency, or establishment) any funds appropriated to the Department of State, for direct expenditure by such department, agency, or independent establishment for the purposes for which the funds were appropriated in accordance with authority granted in the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (ch. 841, 70 Stat. 890, Aug. 1, 1956) or under authority governing the activities of such department, agency, or independent establishment.

Gifts and Decorations from Foreign Governments (5 U.S.C. §7342,Pub. L. No.95-105)

The Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act permits a U.S. government official to accept transportation, subsistence, and/or lodging from a foreign government or international organization if such acceptance is appropriate and consistent with the interests of the U.S. This limited gift acceptance authority does not permit acceptance of travel expenses to or from the United States. Approval of this gift acceptance must be made by the Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management and Budget as in the best interest of the Department.

Goods and Services and Personnel Authorities

Furnishing of Services and Commodities to Other Nations, Use of Foreign Currencies, Detailing and Assignment of Personnel, USAID Payment to US Agencies, Reimbursable Funding (22 U.S.C. §2357,Pub. L. No.87-195; 22 U.S.C. §2387-2390; 22 U.S.C. §2392 )

Section 2357 of Title 22, (Section 607a of the Foreign Assistance Act, authorizes any U.S. agency, upon approval of the Agency for International Development (USAID), to furnish services to friendly countries, international organizations, and voluntary organizations, on an advance of funds or reimbursable basis. This allows agencies to contract with non-U.S. Government officials to perform such services. Upon approval of USAID, various sections of the Act authorize the use of excess foreign currency to carry out U.S. operations abroad; the assignment of U.S. Government employees to perform functions outside the U.S.; the detail of any agency employee to any international organization to render technical, scientific or professional advice; USAID payment to any U.S. agency to carry out assistance to a foreign country or international organization for procurement of commodities or services; and reimbursable funding by the Trade and Development Program to U.S. agencies to promote U.S. exports for major development projects in friendly countries. USGS has a blanket 607 delegation from USAID, renewable on a three-year basis that encompasses research and monitoring on a reimbursable basis for projects in all fields of science in which USGS is active.

Sections 2387-2390 of Title 22 (Sections 627-630 of the FAA) authorize any agency to assign, detail, or otherwise make available its employees to a foreign government or international organization. Unlike Section 607, Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs) are not included. Such details or assignments can be on a fully reimbursable basis, as in section 607, a partially reimbursable basis, or without any reimbursement. Agencies can use the authorities of section 627-630 in conjunction with section 607 to determine the most appropriate cost-sharing arrangement. Use of this authority requires a determination by USAID that the proposed detail or assignment is consistent with and in furtherance of the purposes of the FAA, i.e., that it contributes to the economic development or security of the recipient country. The Department of State maintains a list of recognized international organizations, and details may be subject to State Department regulations.

Section 2392 (Section 632 of the FAA) authorizes USAID to transfer funds to any U.S. agency for the procurement of commodities or services in order to provide assistance in foreign countries.

The Department's International Technical Assistance Program (DOI-ITAP) coordinates some of the Department's activities funded by USAID under Section 2392 (Section 632 of the FAA).

Assignment of Government Employees to Requesting Countries, Use of Facilities and Personnel of Other Governments, and Provision of Technical and Other Services to Foreign Governments (22 U.S.C. §1451, 1456 and 1457)

The United States Information and Educational Exchange Act authorizes the State Department to assign for service, at a foreign government's request, U.S. Government employees who have special scientific and technical qualifications; the State Department to use services, facilities and personnel of other government agencies on a reimbursable basis; and a government agency to perform technical or other services for the government of another country upon terms satisfactory to the State Department and the head of the government agency.

Detail of Personnel to International Organizations (5 U.S.C. §3343, Pub. L. No.85-795)

The Federal Employees International Organization Service Act authorizes the head of an agency to detail an employee to an international organization for expense incurred.


Last Updated: August 2022

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