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In his April 22, 1998, memorandum on "Strengthening Our Commitment to Service," President Clinton directed all Federal departments and agencies to explore additional measures to expand citizen service opportunities for Federal employees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) transmitted the President's memorandum to executive departments and agencies on April 23, 1998. In addition, OPM provided guidance on work scheduling and time off to support Federal employees' volunteer activities.
In accordance with the President's memorandum, all 14 executive departments, plus 43 independent agencies and commissions, submitted reports to the Office of Personnel Management. The reports describe the actions agencies are taking to strengthen their commitment to volunteer service and encourage Federal employees to contribute their time, efforts, knowledge, and skills to community needs. In their reports, many of the agencies describe their community service activities as well as those of some of their employees.
This report is intended to provide a synopsis of the 57 reports OPM received. We found the scope of community service already provided by Federal employees remarkable. The initiatives undertaken by Federal agencies were no less impressive. In this report, we hope to convey a sense of the breadth and diversity of the community service provided by Federal employees as reported to us by their employing agencies.
Departments and agencies that provided reports affirmed their support of Federal employee volunteerism. Agencies also stated that they had disseminated the President's message to their supervisors and employees.
Departments and agencies most frequently cited the use of alternative work schedules (34 agencies), credit hour programs (13 agencies), and other scheduling flexibilities (24 agencies) as effective tools to achieve the President's goals. Alternative work schedules include both flexible work schedules and compressed work schedules. Thirty-three agencies specifically mentioned the use of annual leave, compensatory time, and leave without pay for the purpose of granting time off from work for community service.
The willingness to use excused absence or administrative leave (i.e., time off without loss of pay or charge to leave) in support of employee volunteer activities varies among agencies.
Twenty-three agencies reported that under limited circumstances they grant excused absence for community service. Typically, these agencies grant moderate amounts (e.g., 4 hours per month) of excused absence for agency-sponsored activities when employees must perform the community service during working hours (e.g., Adopt-A-School) and only after the use of other types of time off (annual leave, credit hours, compensatory time, and leave without pay) have been considered.
At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), employees who donate their lunch periods to tutor students are permitted up to 52 hours of excused absence each year for transit time to and from the schools. It is EPA's policy to limit excused absence to activities that are directly related to the accomplishment of the agency's mission, that enhance the development of the professional skills of the employee in his or her current position, or that are officially sponsored or sanctioned by the agency head.
Since agencies are trying to encourage true volunteerism in community service, excused absence to encourage community service is granted sparingly and judiciously. Agencies noted that paying an employee to perform community service raises the question of whether such an activity is truly a "volunteer" activity.
Flexiplace programs permit employees to perform their work at more convenient locations (e.g., at home), thus freeing additional time for them to perform volunteer activities. Flexiplace assignments are offered by at least seven of the reporting agencies. Ten agencies reported offering part-time jobs and job sharing opportunities to employees in connection with community service.
One agency, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, adopted a specific written policy, called "Work Scheduling Flexibilities for Volunteer Activities," to promote a work environment that supports and facilitates employee participation in community volunteer service activities and meets organizational work requirements.
Based upon agency reports to OPM, it appears that existing flexibilities adequately meet employees' needs and that agencies are endeavoring to optimize their use. Agencies are using a variety of flexibilities to support and facilitate employee volunteerism, and supervisors are being responsive to employees' needs and their desire to perform community service.
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Many agencies reported sponsoring their own volunteer activities for their employees. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated local "Adopt-A-Family" programs, which select needy families to be the recipients of food, clothing, essential housewares, and other items collected by agency volunteers and donated by agency employees. At EPA, volunteers provide advice and guidance to the selected families in financial planning and obtaining community services. Other agencies, including OPM, have similar programs, especially during the holiday season.
Under Executive Order 12988, the Department of Justice and several Federal adjudicative agencies have extensive pro bono legal and volunteer service programs in place.1 Most participating employees have a 50-hour per year aspirational goal. Other agencies that have comprehensive pro bono legal services programs include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Office of Government Ethics. In these agencies, community service volunteer programs are typically incorporated into the pro bono legal services programs.
Agencies that operate pro bono legal service programs also encourage their employees to participate in other community service volunteer activities in schools, shelters, senior citizen centers, prisons, and neighborhood community centers. The National Labor Relations Board, for example, has 30 employees who serve as tutors and mentors through the agency's school partnership with the economically and racially diverse Thomson Elementary School in Washington, DC.
Employees of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) provide technical and legal guidance and other pro bono services in their communities. At the same time, other FMC employees volunteer their computer skills to schools and teachers in connection with the Computers for Learning Program authorized under Executive Order 12999.
Partnerships with schools, and other initiatives to reach out to help children in a variety of settings, are among the most prevalent community service programs sponsored by Federal departments and agencies. Nineteen agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Justice, Labor, State, and each of the major components of the Department of Defense, reported partnerships with community schools throughout the nation in various locations. These arrangements create volunteer opportunities for agency employees who provide tutoring and mentoring services, judge science fairs, and assist with computer hookup and training. Some of these agencies provide school children with an opportunity to examine vocational possibilities during career days. In Washington, DC, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation raised $5,611 for its adopted school by conducting a walk/run fundraiser. The Department of State recently completed its fifth year of partnership with the Washington, DC, public schools in sponsoring a Model United Nations Program.
Often the agency-sponsored community service programs are directly or indirectly related to the mission of the agency. The Internal Revenue Service encourages its employees to participate in bureau-sponsored community support initiatives using the employees' job skills in programs such as Volunteers in Tax Assistance (VITA), Tax Counciling for the Elderly (TCE), and assisting with filling out forms and locating records for taxpayers affected by natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.
The Environmental Protection Agency has implemented several innovative volunteer programs using its employees' expertise while supporting its clean earth mission. Earth Day activities use the volunteer services of agency employees and elicit volunteers from the community for clean-up activities in local communities nationwide.
Other examples of agency-sponsored community service programs include food recovery drives and farmers' markets for the needy. This year the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, State, and Transportation, and the Social Security Administration participated in the farmers' market program.
The Department of Energy sponsors the Science Explorers Program to promote science careers for children, especially minorities. The Department of Energy also has a program to maintain a pool of volunteer speakers on mathematics, science, and technology who are available to elementary, junior, and senior high school students nationwide. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Defense Special Weapons Agency provide volunteer judges for school science fairs. The Secret Service supports HEROES--an organization that provides financial assistance through fundraisers for the spouses and children of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
NASA provides expertise and works with schools during National Engineer Week. In conjunction with the Alabama Science Center, NASA's Marshall Space Fight Center in Huntsville, AL, has agreed to build and operate a children's hands-on science center. It has also agreed to further horticultural education and scientific research with the Botanical Garden Society of Huntsville-Madison County, AL. In Mississippi, the employees at the Stennis Space Center are involved with a science education program for preschool and kindergarten students called "Early Education Monday" and have constructed a full-scale space station exhibit at the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center for Children.
Recognition of Federal employees who demonstrate their commitment to volunteerism is an important key to promoting the ethic of service which extends throughout a lifetime.
Twenty-one agencies reported that they have formal recognition and awards programs in their agencies to acknowledge, encourage, and support employees who perform volunteer work.
Several agencies reported making a special effort to keep employees informed of community service volunteer activities and opportunities. Agencies cited several different methods of disseminating this information, including bulletin board postings, newsletter articles, and Internet web page notices. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) promotes community volunteer service among its employees by maintaining a volunteer activities bulletin board as part of its electronic mail and notice system, as well as by displaying posters in the agency's main lobby and on bulletin boards located in various SEC buildings.
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission permits the use of its electronic bulletin board for employee notices to announce volunteer opportunities and community activities or events, such as clothing and food drives, shelter services, Scouts, 4-H, and the like. The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses its web site to inform and update employees about community service opportunities. Employees in some agencies are permitted to post and use web site announcements or agency employee bulletins and newsletters to communicate community service information.
The Office of Administration in the Executive Office of the President reported the creation of citizen service information centers in its libraries to support employees' efforts to locate suitable community service opportunities. Several other agencies reported similar programs to disseminate volunteer information to employees.
Departments and agencies report that Federal employees are serving their communities as volunteers in virtually every capacity imaginable. Federal employees are volunteers in schools, churches, hospitals, and hospices. They serve in their community homeless shelters, recreation programs, and charities. Federal employees serve as emergency medical technicians, museum docents, scout leaders, soccer coaches, and volunteer umpires. They help the young, the at-risk, the physically or mentally challenged, the elderly, homeless, and shut-ins.
Federal employees apply their varied skills to the needs and problems their communities face. They work at refurbishing homes, reclaiming polluted rivers, and rehabilitating peoples' lives. Federal employees are mentors, tutors, and fund-raisers. Volunteers from Federal agencies provide transportation to the sick and elderly, put out fires, teach computer skills, and save lives.
The Tennessee Valley Authority listed more than 75 different examples of what its employees do for their communities. Other agencies also submitted many different illustrations of the activities now being supported by Federal employee volunteers--far too many to list here.
Each department and agency reported support for the President's call for renewing our commitment to service in our communities. Overwhelmingly, departments and agencies called upon Federal employees to contribute even more. From all indications, we can be confident they will respond to the President's request, just as they have in the past.
1. Section 2 of Executive Order 12988 requires all Federal agencies to "develop appropriate programs to encourage and facilitate pro bono legal and other volunteer services by government employees, to be performed on their own time, as permitted by statute, regulation, or other rule or guideline." Section 5 of Executive Order 12988 directs the Department of Justice to coordinate the efforts of Federal agencies to implement pro bono legal and other volunteer services.
The following list of executive branch departments, agencies, and commissions submitted reports to the Office of Personnel Management in response to the President's memorandum of April 22, 1998: