International Activities- Policy

The purpose of this memorandum is to clarify and document current Water Resources Division (WRD) policy with respect to official foreign travel, foreign project and technical assistance activities, foreign exchange scientists, training of personnel from foreign countries, and foreign visitors. A companion memorandum (WRD Memorandum No. 88.66) addressing procedural requirements related to these topics will be issued in the near future.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been involved in water-resources activities in foreign countries for nearly a century. Since the 1890's, USGS water scientists have been assigned from time to time to overseas activities under special bilateral agreements with other countries or in support of other U.S. Federal agencies' foreing programs. For many years, USGS scientists have actively participated in water-related international professional and technical organizations and collaborated with counterpart scientists from other countries in research and related activities. As a recognized world leader in water-resources studies, the USGS also provides formal training courses and on-the-job training opportunities for foreign scientists, engineers, and technicians. Changes in U.S. foreign policy and in USGS and WRD domestic mission, personnel, and funding constraints require that WRD policies and procedures regarding international activities be updated periodically.

  1. Official Foreign Travel -- The WRD recognizes the potential benefits of international cooperation in furthering the goals and objectives of our hydrologic programs. To the extent that foreign travel by Division personnel is necessary to realize these potential benefits, such travel will be supported and encouraged by the Division. It is the policy of WRD to recommend approval of foreign travel only if it contributes significantly to the accomplishment of the USGS mission and if the purposes of the travel cannot be accomplished in any other reasonable manner. Expenditure for foreign travel of funds appropriated to the USGS will be approved only when clearly justified by anticipated benefits to USGS mission programs. WRD personnel should not make tentative commitments, and must not make binding commitments, for official foreign travel without prior approval by the Chief Hydrologist.

    Official foreign travel by USGS employees must meet stringent administrative criteria stemming from legislative requirements and regulations of the Departments of State and Interior. In this regard, the final approval authority for foreign travel of a USGS employee is vested with the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Department of the Interior (DOI).

    Increased public concern regarding possible wast, fraud, or mismanagement in the Federal Government makes it imperative that we avoid situations that might have even the appearance of misuse of Government funds. One such situation is the use of annual leave by an employee in conjunction with official travel. DOI guidance states that such leave "should be approved only when the approving authority is sure that the travel is necessary and the annual leave is incidental to the mission to be "performed." All individuals, from the traveler to those responsible for travel authorization and leave approval, must be aware of the sensitivity of annual leave taken in conjunction with official travel that could appear to violate departmental policy. No foreign travel request and no annual leave in conjunction with foreign travel will be approved by the traveler's supervisor unless the above requirements are met.

    Because of the concerns cited above and in the interest of prudent fiscal responsiblity, it is imperative that foreign travel be held to the minimum level required to carry out USGS mission responsibilities. Potential travelers and their supervisors should be alert particularly for opportunities for individual employees attending foreign meetings to satisfactorily substitute for other individuals proposing to present papers or carry out other duties at those same meetings. to the extent that individual trips can be cancelled or reduced by "doubling-up" assignments to other travelers, without significant detriment to the travel mission, such cancellations and reductions will be made. In this connection, it should be noted that neither attendance nor presentation of a paper at a meeting are in themselves sufficient justification for approval of foreign travel. Supervisors at each level are responsible for approving only valid, adequately justified travel requests and for controlling expenditures for foreign travel.
  2. Foreign Projects and Technical Assistance Activities -- The WRD will participate formally only in those foreign activities that provide significant benefits to the Division and for which qualified and interested individuals can be made available without significant detriment to domestic programs. Foreign projects and technical assistance activities normally will be undertaken only on a fully reimbursable basis. The Assistant Chief Hydrologist for Research and External Coordination (ACH/R&EC) will assist in negotiating reimbursable agreements and must approve all funding proposals before they are presented to the funding agency. Any use of funds appropriated to the USGS must be approved in advance by the Chief Hydrologist. WRD personnel will not actively seek participation in, and must not commit themselves or the WRD to undertake, foreign projects, technical assistance, or related cooperative scientific activities without prior approval by the Chief Hydrologist.

    Foreign assignment opportunities, both short- and long-term, normally will be announced to all personnel through the established vacancy announcement system. Applications must be submitted through normal supervisory channels to the ACH/R&EC.
  3. Foreign Exchange Scientists -- The WRD encourages exchanges of scientific personnel with other countries when the anticipated benefits from such exchanges clearly justify the Division's participation. A WRD employee must not make commitments to participate as an exchange scientist in another country or to host an exchnage scientist from another country without prior approval by the Chief Hydrologist. Any use of USGS facilities or appropriated funds in support of foreign exchange scientists must be fully justified by expected benefits to USGS mission programs. Once preliminary approval has been granted by the Chief Hydrologist, detailed arrangements for exchange scientists may be made by the concerned project or office personnel with the advice and assistance, as required, of the ACH/R&EC. No exchange agreement will be implemented until the ACH/R&EC has given final approval. Information concerneing all exchange scientist agreements and activities will be provided through normal supervisory channels to the ACH/R&EC.
  4. Foreign Trainees -- The WRD periodically sponsors formal training courses for foreign scientific and technical personnel and encourages WRD offices and projects to provide opportunities for on-the-job training for foreign participants. All such training will be provided on a reimbursable, cost-recovery basis, with uniform charges to be determined by the ACH/R&EC. No commitments will be made by WRD personnel to provide specific training opportunities to groups or individuals from foreign countries without prior approval by the Chief Hydrologist. Any use of appropriated funds or facilities for purposes of training foreign students that exceeds in cost the specific reimbursement must be fully justified by anticipated benefits to the WRD. All agreements for training of foreign personnel must be approved by the ACH/R&EC. Only training that can be done without significant detriment to the USGS domestic mission will be approved.
  5. Foreign Visitors -- For the purposes of this memorandum, a "visitor" is defined as a foreign scientist who visits the WRD at his own request, at the request of his government or an international organization, or at the request of another Federal agency, a college or university, or a private contractor/consultant, to obtain information related to WRD programs and activities, and that does not directly benefit WRD mission or program activities by an exchange of scientific information. Because of the staff time that must be expended to support these visits, it has become necessary to define "visit" as a combined period of 5 or fewer days spent in one or more offices of WRD. Any visitor's stay that exceeds a combined period of 5 days will be defined as "training" and will be subject to the terms set forth in paragraph D above. Division offices are encouraged to host foreign visitors as time and opportunity permit. A brief summary of each visit msut be provided through normal supervisory channels to the ACH/R&EC who may be contacted for advice or guidance related to visit requests.

    The ACH/R&EC is responsible for oversight and control of all official international activities conducted by the WRD and its personnel. He or members of his staff can provide explanatory or additional information on any aspect of WRD policies related to international activities. Your cooperation in carrying out and enforcing these policies will facilitate the Division's continued participation in this professionally challenging and personally rewarding international work.

Philip Cohen
Chief Hydrologist

Distribution: A, B, S, FO, PO

This memorandum and WRD Memorandum No. 88.66 supersede WRD Memorandums No. 87.30 dated February 13, 1987, and 87.49 dated April 20, 1987.