Conservation, use, and protection of America’s natural, cultural, and historical heritage constitute an essential component of the mission of the Department of the Interior. Scientifically-informed and technologically-based stewardship of our public lands, waters, wildlife and special places – if it is to succeed – must be done in collaboration and partnership among Interior agencies, with other governmental entities and, most importantly, with the citizens who share and give form to our mission.

We are committed to building partnerships to encourage conservation and preserve our natural and cultural resources; to bringing innovative approaches to solving land management and water disputes; and to developing energy, including renewable sources of energy, in the most environmentally protective manner.

A partnership is basically an agreement between two or more organizations, created to achieve or assist in reaching a common goal. Partnerships may involve one organization utilizing another's unique abilities, equipment or services, or it may be a "sharing" of resources (money, time, knowledge, equipment, etc.) to accomplish short or long-term objectives for one or all of the participating partners.

Types of Partnerships

The Department engages in many types of formal and informal partnership arrangements including: grants and cooperative agreements; memoranda of understanding; donations to the Department; and statutory partnerships. These tools are available for use in structuring the partnership arrangements specific to the needs of, and to the mutual benefit of the parties involved.

Grants and Cooperative Agreements

Partnership grants are used by the Department when it is supporting a public purpose and does not anticipate any substantial involvement with the recipient after funds are transferred, for example, where an agency grants funds to an organization that will use the funds for a specified purpose. Cooperative agreements are similar to grant agreements, but are used when the Department will be actively involved in the activity for which the funding or in-kind service is being provided. Another type of grant arrangement is the challenge assistance or cost-sharing agreement, which requires the provision of matching funds to leverage the effectiveness of the grant funds. Criteria for when to use a grant or cooperative agreement are found in the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act at 31 U.S.C. § 6305.

Memoranda of Understanding

Memoranda of Understanding are useful when partnership arrangements do not involve the transfer of funding, property, services, or human resources by either party, but is instead based on mutual agreement on processes, products, or outcomes accomplished by working cooperatively with other Federal or non-Federal partners on issues of mutual interest. Memoranda of Understanding are based on the appropriate statutory authority for the formation of the partnership, and should generally include the following elements: heading; background; statement of purpose; identification of statutory authorities; procedures to be followed and responsibilities of the parties; and administrative provisions.

Donations to the Department

Although most Department partnerships do not involve a direct transfer of resources to the Department, there are certain situations in which an outside party may want to donate money, property, or services to the Department. These donations are considered “gifts”, and are generally defined as gratuitous conveyances of ownership in property without anything being given by the Department in return. Gifts to the Department can only be accepted if there is specific statutory authority to receive it. Most of the Department’s bureaus have gift acceptance authority; however each situation must be evaluated in consultation with the Partnership Primer, Part D: Partnership Authorities to determine whether the Department has the requisite statutory authority, for the specific set of circumstances to accept the gift from outside entities. Gifts to the Department must conform to Departmental ethics rules and must not create the appearance of impropriety.

Statutory Partnerships

A substantial number of general statutory (programmatic) authorities can be broadly thought of as partnership tools because they enable Department partnership action. Congress also often enacts legislation that authorizes specific partnerships or partnership activities. These partnership tools often define a relationship in which the Department will work with other Federal or non-Federal entities, including state, local and tribal governments. In these situations, Congress determines the scope of the partnership and usually provides specific authority in addition to the bureau’s general statutory authorities. Legislation to implement a particular partnership activity may be proposed to Congress through appropriate official channels and through the bureau’s congressional liaison office.

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