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News Release

Friday, December 10, 2004
Contact: Edmund Byrnes
Tel: 202-606-2402

U.S. Office of Personnel Management Releases Audit Report of National Science Foundation Use of ‘Rotators'

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the results of an audit report of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) use of "temporary term" employees, known as "rotators." The use of rotators is authorized under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA).

"Congress requested that OPM conduct this review because of our governmentwide leadership role for strategic human capital management, as well as our having the expertise necessary to assess how NSF uses IPA assignments in the context of mission accomplishment," said OPM Director Kay Coles James. "We will work closely as a supportive team member to help the NSF with its ongoing human capital assessment, and we will closely monitor the implementation of the OPM recommendations designed to strengthen the NSF."

The audit report focuses primarily on NSF's use of IPAs. The IPA program allows for temporary assignment of skilled personnel between the federal government and non-federal entities, including state and local governments, institutions of higher education, Indian tribal governments and other eligible organizations.

OPM's audit report examines the percentage of the NSF professional workforce staffed by IPA assignments and the impact of those appointments on the career civil service at NSF, the use of IPA assignments to staff the most senior positions at NSF, including the heads of its science directorates, and the level of compensation paid to individuals who fill senior staff positions with IPA assignments.

OPM looked at key data regarding all current IPA rotators at NSF and, based on these indicators, conducted a complete audit of all personnel transactions related to nearly 40 percent of the IPAs. OPM also reviewed other data sources such as OPM's IPA database and legal authorities, and supplemented this data review with interviews of NSF executives, managers, and professional staff.

In summary, the audit report states that "IPA assignments at NSF are high profile and valued within the scientific and engineering communities. When NSF looks to universities and research centers, it is able to recruit diverse quality candidates with a wide variety of academic and professional backgrounds and demonstrated leadership skills...[NSF] uses [IPA assignees] as conduits to the scientific and engineering research community and as competent employees that can manage NSF's workforce."

Key findings from the audit include:

  • OPM has determined that NSF has a Human Capital Management (HCM) Plan aligned to the agency strategic plan and has selected a workforce planning model that meets strategic requirements and incorporates findings from human capital pilot programs. While these plans address the need for scientific and engineering expertise, they should also link the type of hiring authority (career appointment or IPA assignment) to short-term and long-term needs.
  • Approximately 20 percent of NSF's scientific and engineering workforce is currently staffed through IPA assignments. NSF uses a flexible approach in filling these positions, including a broad and full competitive recruitment process in an effort to select the best-qualified applicant for the vacant position. Nevertheless, NSF should modify its HCM Plan and related workforce planning documents to ensure that its decisions on how to fill scientific and engineering positions are consistent in its use of various hiring authorities and based on the agency's strategic plan.
  • Currently, a majority of NSF's top executive positions at the Assistant Director level are filled with IPA assignees. OPM concluded that such a high percentage of temporary employees does not assure leadership continuity at NSF. The report directs NSF to submit an annual report to OPM on the filling of its senior management positions.
  • In two cases, OPM found that NSF had filled career reserved Senior Executive Service (SES) positions using IPA assignees. Career reserved positions in the SES are those that involve certain areas of program management, such as grants or contract administration. By law, only career executives may occupy career-reserved positions. Consequently, the report directs NSF to remove the IPA assignees from those career reserved positions.

The Intergovernmental Personnel Act authorizes agencies to reimburse IPA assignees' home institutions for their full salary, fringe benefits, and travel and relocation expenses. A small percentage of NSF's IPA assignees are compensated at a level that exceeds the SES salary cap. When NSF uses the IPA authority's compensation flexibilities to recruit top level scientific and engineering talent, the OPM report encourages NSF to also use available non-IPA compensation flexibilities in those instances where it chooses to fill a senior management position with a career civil service candidate.

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OPM leads and serves the Federal Government in enterprise human resources management by delivering policies and services to achieve a trusted, effective civilian workforce. By Empowering Excellence in Government through Great People, we provide leadership and support to U.S. agencies on issues including human resources policy and oversight, background investigations, federal employee benefits, retirement services, guidance on labor-management relations, and programs to improve workforce performance. For more information, visit or follow OPM on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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