The Intergovernmental Personnel Act, or IPA, is a great way for the federal government to recruit talent from the academic and nonprofit sectors. But as a hiring manager, you may need to rally support among several internal players to formalize an IPA appointment. Below is a list of questions frequently asked by other hiring managers and suggested responses for addressing those questions. They are broken down into three categories:
- Budgeting for an IPA position.
- Negotiating for an IPA position and candidate
- Consulting with stakeholders to finalize the IPA placement.
Budgeting for an IPA position
Start the conversation as soon as program office leaders have approved the proposed IPA idea. Ideally, initiate these conversations before identifying a candidate. The budget office needs a rough estimate of the costs of the IPA to make its decision. If funds are available within the program’s budget, the budget office will direct the program office to proceed with the recruitment process. If sufficient funds are not available, the program manager can work with the budget office to identify offsets elsewhere. For example, the program manager may opt to reduce planned training or travel, delay replacing separated federal staff or use funds from contracts that come in under cost to cover the costs of the IPA.
The budget office would treat this as it does any unexpected budget items that arise during the course of a fiscal year. If your office has funds programmed already that can accommodate the unexpected expense, great! If the budget is maxed or inadequate, your office may conditionally approve an IPA candidate if that candidate’s home employer can cover all or some of the salary costs. It might expedite the reprogramming request if your office identifies planned expenses that it will forego in exchange for approving IPA funding. If the surprise candidate will remain with you into the next fiscal year(s), make sure the IPA line item is included for those years as well.
Federal programs must have statutory “gift authority” to be able to receive and spend funds beyond their congressionally provided appropriation. In general, most federal programs do not have the requisite gift authority. Therefore, receiving such funds is not allowed under appropriations law.
However, nonfederal organizations such as states and universities tend to have more flexible rules. A foundation is generally allowed to provide third-party funds to the nonfederal home employer if allowed. If you believe that your agency has the authority to receive gifts, consult with your budget or finance office as well as legal counsel to determine the best way forward.
Donations or grants to the home employer must not present a conflict of interest, nor appear to present a conflict of interest. In other words, if such contributions would be suspect when directly made to your agency, the IPA agreement should not be used solely to keep such a transaction “off the books.”
Not necessarily. Federal agencies may agree to pay all, some or none of the costs associated with the assignment. The same goes for a candidate’s home organization. If you have a candidate in mind, it might be worth checking with the home organization to see if it is willing to cover the costs for a developmental assignment such as a term-limited detail.
If that doesn’t work, feel free to work with your budget office to make funding available by identifying what services can be foregone to pay for the detail, such as reduced travel, training or contract costs. You can also offer to leave vacant positions unfilled and use the funds from those positions to pay for the costs of the IPA assignment. The budget office staff’s default response might be, “No, you can’t afford it,” but they’re generally open to identifying offsets to help meet program objectives.
If you still don’t have the funding in the current fiscal year, tell the budget office that you want to work with it this year on including the costs of an IPA assignment into next year’s operating budget.
Is your program’s budget currently on schedule, running a surplus or in deficit? If the latter, where would you propose offsets to make up the necessary funds? Are there vacant positions in your program that you would leave unfilled to cover the costs of the appointment? What other offsets can you provide to free up the necessary funding? Is this something that can wait until next year after we’ve had a chance to work with you on incorporating the costs into your operating budget?
Negotiating an IPA position and candidate
The federal program’s human resources office will need a position description fairly early in the process to determine if the candidate’s target grade and pay are commensurate with their duties. You can share this description with the home organization at any point during the process. In fact, something very similar to the position description will likely be posted on the federal program’s website announcing the IPA opportunity.
The actual timeline for the candidate’s placement is included in Section 5 of the OF-69 and can be shared when that document is complete and ready for the home organization’s signature. Of course, there’s no problem sharing a notional timeline between the time a candidate is identified and the finalization of the OF-69.
Once agency leadership has approved the appointment and the following reviewers have preliminarily agreed that the terms of the arrangement are appropriate for the assignment, you can share a partially completed OF-69 form with the nonfederal home employer for review. Reviewers who should consent to the agreement:
- Budget: to ensure that adequate funds are available.
- Human Resources: to ensure that the candidate’s target grade is commensurate with the duties that person will perform.
- Ethics or Legal: to ensure that the source of funds to pay the costs is appropriate. Ethical concerns about a candidate’s personal or business relations are assessed in the final stages of candidate placement.
To move forward before reviewers have approved the terms and conditions of the assignment risks having the assignment denied after the candidate and their home organization thought an appointment or detail was imminent.
As a best practice, you should provide reviewers with as much information about the IPA assignment as possible early on. While some specific information cannot be known until a candidate has been identified, the process will go more smoothly if a package for reviewers includes a partially completed OF-69 form and a draft position description. These documents will have to be finalized for approval by both the home and federal organization once a candidate has been selected and all the details of the assignment are known.
Technically, the government is not obligated to match or exceed a candidate’s most recent salary, so a candidate could earn less as an IPA placement than elsewhere. However, other measures may be considered to support the candidate’s federal income and make the appointment more attractive. Cost-sharing arrangements could include supplemental pay, fringe benefits, a per diem allowance or relocation costs. Side income earned by a candidate such as consulting fees could also be allowed to continue during the appointment. In addition, the contributing employer could continue to pay the candidate some or all of the existing salary during the IPA period, such as in the case of a sabbatical.
While serving in a federal agency, the candidate must be compensated for the base pay that agency would have provided to a similarly qualified individual seeking full-time federal employment. This is an acceptable combination of circumstances as long as everyone is aware that placements are term-limited and an individual must return to their previous position (and previous salary) at the end of the appointment. The contributing employer can make whatever salary arrangements it wants with its employee at that time.
IPA is a noncompetitive appointment authority and not subject to the normal restrictions when it comes to selecting candidates. You can choose a candidate first and then pursue IPA as a method of appointment, or you can create and fund an IPA position first, and then pursue candidates to fill it. This process will depend on the nature of your agency needs and circumstances.
If you’ve selected a potential candidate, already have preliminary approval from your agency leadership, ethics, human resources and budget offices, and the candidate has expressed interest in taking the appointment. You may begin negotiating with the candidate’s home organization once you have preliminary approval from the offices and reviewers listed above.
Think of it like you would any other purchase you might make. You believe the candidate will provide value to your organization; you have a sense of how much that value is worth; and, based on discussions with your budget office, you assume that adequate funds are available. Ask the candidate’s home organization what the candidate’s current compensation package is and propose a reimbursement agreement that splits the costs based on the relative benefit of the assignment for the two organizations.
Let’s say the candidate’s current compensation package is $200,000 per year. If you and the home organization agree the relative benefit to each organization is 50%/50% and you both have $100,000 available, you’re very close to an agreement. If, on the other hand, you only have $75,000, you may want to ask the home organization if they can make up the shortfall for the sake of the candidate’s development. Naturally, if you have $125,000 available and can bring the candidate aboard for $100,000, you still have $25,000 available for your program’s operation.
Consulting with stakeholders to finalize the IPA placement
The IPA appointment can’t proceed until the preceding reviewer has approved the concept of the detail, so start with your agency leadership. If they do not approve, there is no point in discussing the appointment with your human resources, budget and ethics offices. If leadership approves, check with budget to make sure adequate funds are available. If given funding approval, then approach human resources and ethics. Once those approvals are obtained, you’re ready to post an IPA opportunity on your website and work with the Partnership for Public Service on screening applicants.
Our IPA hiring process workflow chart will give you a general idea on how to proceed. Start by getting approval from agency leadership and proceed through each of the approving offices (budget, human resources and ethics). Be prepared to work with each of them iteratively as new details emerge. For example, as you move through the process, you may discover that a particular candidate requires more funding than you initially had proposed to your budget office. Be prepared to go back to the office with the new requirements and hammer out the details.
The office will want to see a job description—or something similar—that describes the duties and responsibilities of the position to be filled so they can assign a grade level to the role. The office might want to know that the legal authority for assignments under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act is 5 USC sections 3371 through 3375, and the regulations are 5 CFR, part 5, chapter 334.
Early in the process, before you have a specific candidate in mind, your ethics office will want assurances that the duties performed by the eventual candidate fall within the purview of the program’s authorizing legislation. That is, funds appropriated to an agency for its authorized purposes may not be used for activities outside that authority.
For example, an individual brought on by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, whose authority is to inspect mines, may not be employed to inspect workplaces unrelated to mining. Those workplaces fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The ethics office will also be interested in knowing if any unappropriated funds will be used to pay the costs of the detail. For example, if you plan to use funds from a philanthropic organization, then you should consult your appropriations or ethics counsel, and your budget office.
Once you have a specific candidate in mind, your ethics office will be interested in any personal or business relations that may affect the candidate’s ability to work impartially and in the public interest. For example, a candidate who has business dealings with the federal program for which they’ll be working for may pose a conflict of interest.
They will likely ask you about the legality of an IPA assignment. Be prepared with some general information about the authority created by the Intergovernmental Personnel Act. They may want to know why you would like to fill this position with a detailee or appointee instead of filling it with a federal employee. They will certainly want to know if your program can afford it or if you are asking them to divert funds from another program to yours. This is usually a high bar and an indicator that you may not have exhausted the opportunities available to you. You may want to anticipate this question and do a quick consultation with your budget office if financing a detail is possible at this time.
They will likely ask a lot of questions about logistics. The answers are provided elsewhere in our materials or by you, depending on varying circumstances. Some examples include:
- Where will I be working?
- When would I start?
- How will I get paid?
- Can I continue to make money from my outside consulting work?
- Will I be reimbursed for travel expenses?
- Will you cover relocation expenses for me and my family? How about per diem expenses?
- What happens after I finish this assignment?
- Can I use this appointment to become a career federal employee?
If they’ve never heard of an IPA assignment, you may have to familiarize them with the general outlines of the program. They will ask how you envision costs being distributed between the two organizations. You could begin by discussing the relative benefits received by both organizations and make an offer based on your assessment of those benefits. You may want to discuss that this will involve a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations, typically established using the OF-69 form, that outlines the terms and conditions of assigning a staff member from one organization to another. It could also be helpful to share a sample OF-69 from another assignment, and they will certainly want to know the duration of the assignment. To give them a general idea of what you have in mind, you may want to share the IPA opportunity announcement posted on your website.
This will vary by human resources office and depend on how familiar each office is with the IPA authority. IPA appointments are noncompetitive and should therefore track with the timelines of other noncompetitive appointments like Schedule A and Peace Corps candidates. In most instances, IPA appointments are not preceded by job opportunity announcements because those are associated with competitive processes.