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Volunteer for Science Program Questions and Answers

Revised August 2016

Volunteer for Science Program Q&A

The following information provides updates on the Volunteer for Science Program and answers to the most frequently asked questions. 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. The Handbook is available at:

1. What is the definition of a volunteer?

A volunteer is defined as any individual, citizen or noncitizen, who 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. (Survey Manual SM 500.23 5 B)

The Volunteer for Science Program includes Scientist Emeriti. Further information on the USGS Scientist Emeritus Program is available at

2. How do individuals become volunteers?

The first step in the process of becoming a volunteer is for the project leader to establish and sign Form OF-301A in Webforms (SharePoint) at .  Volunteer activity, hours, and expenses are tracked through Webforms, and the project leader is responsible for keeping that information updated at the end of each quarter for official reporting purposes. 

The OF-301A form is important.  The “Volunteer Services Agreement for Natural Resources Agencies” (OF-301A) is used as the official document for the acceptance of volunteer service, and officially establishes the individual as a volunteer.  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 or program files for 3 years after termination of volunteer service.

The OF-301A form must be completed and signed before the individual can perform any volunteer services for the USGS. The agreement must include a brief description of the services to be performed and disclosure of any hazardous conditions or other situations that may affect the individual's health or safety, and a job description must be attached. The individual must also disclose whether he or she knows of a medical condition or physical limitation that may adversely affect his or her ability to provide those services.

3. What is the role of the Volunteer Manager?

The Volunteer Manager/Coordinator, or their Organization (indicated on Page 4 of the OF-301A form), is responsible for keeping the original signed hard copy of the Volunteer Agreement, plus any other relevant documentation such as updated agreements, expense receipts, logs of hours worked, etc.  The hardcopy Volunteer Agreement with original signatures should be maintained in the office or program files for 3 years after termination of volunteer service.  The Human Resources Office does not keep hard copies of the Volunteer Agreement or of any other documentation.  Webforms is the official system of record for tracking volunteer agreements, activity, hours, and expenses.

4. Are there requirements for clearance physical exams or job hazard analyses?

When it comes to volunteer health and safety, volunteers should be managed the same as employees. Volunteers are included on the DOI safety net website and are subject to OSHA/safety protections and risk management efforts. (See However, except in very rare cases, managers and supervisors may not assign duties that expose volunteers to high-hazard working conditions or physical hardships.

When centers or offices establish volunteer jobs where hazards do exist (such as operating machinery, underwater diving, etc.), they can require a clearance physical dependent on the volunteer vacancy job hazard analysis for the specific job.  Job hazard analyses are the responsibility of the center or office establishing the agreement with the volunteer(s), and should be based on a very careful and detailed job description included in the official OF-301A Volunteer Agreement.  For additional information on job hazard analyses, see:

For documenting physical exams for volunteers, we should be using the standard DOI medical exam clearance form because it requires PII data collection.  This form is on site.

See Chapter 2 in the Volunteer Handbook for additional information on safety, risks, and hazardous conditions.

5. Is the signed hard copy OF-301A Volunteer Agreement form sufficient?

No. An electronic Webforms OF-301A Volunteer Agreement form must be initiated, and the completed hard copy Volunteer Agreement form (with signatures) must be scanned into the Webforms OF-301A form (see Page 3 of form). Electronic copies of the signed hard copy of the OF-301A Volunteer Services Agreement, plus any updates to the Agreement or additional documentation, must be attached on Page 3 of the electronic form. Due to the possibility of liability for compensation for work injuries, or for purposes of claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, it is critical that the electronic OF-301A Volunteer Services Agreement have the complete job description attached to Page 3 of the form. The job description must specifically state the scope of the volunteer’s authorized activity. This Agreement must be updated whenever that scope of activity changes, and an updated job description needs to be attached. If this is a volunteer group, attach a complete list of volunteer participants, and attach signed parental approval for each volunteer under the age of 18 (also on Page 3).

Note: You may attach as many files as you like to the electronic Volunteer Agreement form. However, if you print out the form, you will need to print out each one of the attached files separately because attachments to the form are not printed automatically with the form.

Also note that on Page 4, E, there are 3 spaces to include names of individuals who may have read and write access to the OF-301A form for reporting purposes, such as reporting hours. When any of those individuals leave or are no longer associated with the volunteer’s work, it is important to remove those inactive and update the individual accesses so that hours can continue to be reported for inclusion in official USGS and DOI reports, job descriptions updated, etc.

6. What are the security and computer access requirements for volunteers?

Questions on actual physical access to computers and systems should be addressed to the USGS Help Desk.

USGS policy about investigation requirements and security processes for contractors and other affiliates, including volunteers, is available here: For specific requirements and procedures, please refer to the checklist referenced on that page.

Volunteers all need some sort of background investigation.

Current OPM billing rates for background investigations are available at: The Cost Center for whom the volunteer is providing services pays for the investigation.

Volunteers having Field Access Only will need a SAC (a favorably adjudicated Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint check).

Volunteers with Supervised or Unsupervised access to facilities vary in requirements according to the number of volunteer days they work.

  • Volunteers working 179 days or fewer and needing facility access only will need a SAC; they are not required to register for DOI Access, but management may request it at their discretion.
  • Volunteers working 180 days or more and needing facility access only will need a NACI and an SAC, and will need to complete an OF 306 form “Declaration of Federal Employment”, which OPM requires in order to run an investigation.
  • All volunteers needing computer or system (including email) access will need a NACI and an SAC, DOI Access registration, and an OF 306 form “Declaration of Federal Employment”, and will need to complete security awareness and behavior training.

To access USGS network(s) or internet, volunteers need to use a GFE (government furnished equipment) computer. A volunteer must have a DOI Access Card and a GFE computer with a card reader if he or she needs to access USGS network(s) or internet after September 1, 2015.

The link to the DOIAccess Card Request Form is at - Request New Card is in the top line of options. (This refers to the identification card, not a charge card.)

The link for who to contact to get a DOI Access Card as well as information on the 9-3056, the OF 306, and other security matters, by areas of the country is at

Employees returning as volunteers need to first complete the Form 9-090 (Employee Clearance Form) process. The form is available online at The returning volunteer must then submit a 9-3056 webform at and complete an OF 306 (Declaration of Federal Employment) form.

If you have questions regarding security forms or process, please contact the security representative for your area at

For additional information on security or computer access, please contact Sarah Bemis in Security at 703-648-7395, or at

7. What are the procedures for bringing former employees back as volunteers?

If a current employee will be returning as a volunteer, they MUST complete the 9-090 exit process before becoming a volunteer. The 9-090 process triggers a sequence of security, safety, and facilities processes. Failure to complete the 9-090 process causes problems with Active Directory, which feeds into several other security systems and processes, and the retiree would be allowed to continue with security accesses that they should no longer have. If the 9-090 is delayed, then the employee will just have to go through the process later.

There is a box on the 9-090 that should be checked, indicating that the employee is returning in a volunteer within 2 weeks, and indicating what their role will be according to the choices in the drop down box. All the returning retirees have to do to re-enable their email is put in a request with the Service Desk. When that process is initiated, they are processed in DOI Access, removed as an employee, and brought back in Active Directory in their new role.

The 9-090 form is available online at The employee returning as a volunteer must then submit a 9-3056 Webform at and complete an OF 306 (Declaration of Federal Employment) form.

8. How do we handle charge cards for volunteers?

Volunteers follow the same travel rules as employees and are required to take the same training before getting a charge card. As many volunteers needing charge cards used to be employees, they took the training before they got their cards so most are familiar with the travel regulations. Finance just removes their purchasing authority if they had it and decreases the travel limit on their charge card.

New volunteers who were not employees are sent the same link to the training and required to complete it before getting a card. For additional information or questions on government charge cards, contact Margaret Seaboy (USGS Charge Card Coordinator) at, or (703) 648-7350.

9. How do we handle travel for volunteers?

For questions on travel for volunteers, please contact Travel Policy at for guidance.

10. How do we track hours worked by volunteers?

Volunteer hours worked must be input by or for each volunteer as soon as each quarter ends, and before the 10th of the month following the end of that quarter (Page 4).

Make certain each volunteer has entered 3 people on page 4 (section E) of the Webforms OF-301A. These contacts will have access to the volunteer’s form to update it, report hours, etc. It is important to keep those 3 contacts, the Volunteer Manager/Coordinator, and the Project Leader updated when changes are made or contacts leave in order to provide continued access to the form for updating and reporting purposes.

11. Do we have to deactivate or terminate volunteers?


12. How do we deactivate a volunteer?

When a volunteer (including emeritus) terminates their volunteer agreement, they are required to initiate the Form 9-090 (Employee Clearance Form) no later than 2 weeks prior to separation from the USGS. The 9-090 is available at: The separating volunteer must also turn in all Government personal property and other "official" items for which they are responsible, such as Government charge card, office keys, Government ID, Government-issued passport, parking pass, etc., and must liquidate all outstanding debts owed to the Federal Government and to the Government charge card contractor. All computer access must be removed from all Department of the Interior (DOI) and USGS internal systems. (Survey Manual 344.16 - Employee and Non-Employee Clearance Procedures, Date: 1/4/10)

In addition, the departing volunteer’s Volunteer Agreement must be terminated in the Webforms OF-301A on page 2 under “Termination of Agreement” by entering the date the agreement is terminated in the “Agreement Terminated on” field. Otherwise, the agreement stays active, and inactive volunteers skew our Volunteer counts for official reporting purposes.

13. Can we announce volunteer opportunities externally?

Yes. 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. Please contact Pam Agnew,, the Bureau Volunteer Coordinator, for assistance in posting new or ongoing volunteer opportunities.

14. How are volunteer opportunities input into the site?

The local program’s Volunteer Manager/Coordinator inputs the announcement. The Bureau Volunteer Coordinator can set up access to the opportunity portion of the Web site for Volunteer Manager/Coordinator, who will then have a password protected interface for entering announcements and information on volunteer opportunities.

15. How do volunteers find opportunities on

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.

16. What does the volunteer do after identifying 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.

17. 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.

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

Yes. Volunteers applying through must also complete a Form OF-301A, Volunteer Services Agreement (Rev 2010), in WebForms (found under Other Forms). 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.

19. 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.

20. 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

For questions on visas and volunteers, please contact Marle Lucas at

21. 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.

22. May volunteers reference their volunteer service experience in their resumes or job applications?

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.

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. 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.

26. 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: The form also specifies who to contact in case a minor volunteer is injured.

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.

27. 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.

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

A Scientist Emeritus is a particular type of volunteer. 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

29. What is a “Citizen Scientist”?

A “Citizen Scientist” is defined as a volunteer actively working with the USGS to discover, collect, and organize a variety of scientific data that is critical for the future of understanding broad trends and findings across a variety of categories. Citizen science (also known as crowd or crowd-sourced science) has been defined as scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Examples of USGS Citizen Scientist Activities:

  • Bird banding
  • Cricket Crawl
  • North American Bird Phenology Program and Breeding Bird Survey
  • Nature's Notebook participants
  • Did you Feel IT? participants
  • Quake Catcher Network
  • North American Amphibian Monitoring Program
  • Invasive Plant Atlas
  • Alaska Volcano Observatory Citizen Network Ash Collection and Observation Program
  • The National Map Corps

The “Citizen Scientist” is a definition used by the Department of the Interior to categorize certain types of volunteers for its “Engaging the Next Generation” Agency Priority Goal, which encompasses four goals: Play, Learn, Serve, and Work. Data on “Citizen Scientist” volunteers, including counts and hours worked, is reported to the Department in Serve goal related reports by our USGS Office of Budget, Planning, and Integration on a quarterly basis.

Please direct any questions on “Citizen Scientists”, the Departmental “Engaging the Next Generation” Play, Learn, Serve, and Work goals, or the associated quarterly reports requirements to Melinda Gaber, Bureau Coordinator - Engaging the Next Generation APG and Secretarial Priority, at 703-648-4439 or

30. 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.

31. 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 at

32. 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.

33. 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 at

34. What happens if a volunteer is injured, has an accident, 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.

35. 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.

36. 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 at

37. 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.

38. 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.

39. Are volunteer services tax-deductible?

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

40. 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 acknowledgment. The Webforms version should be amended as well as the hard copy form.

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