Review of Intergovernmental
Personnel Act Assignments of Senior Staff - A-13-96-02001 - 9/30/97
This final report presents the results of our review
of Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignments of senior staff
by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The IPA authorizes the
temporary assignment of personnel between the Federal Government
and nonfederal organizations. The objective of our review was to
determine whether assignments of SSA personnel to external organizations
were handled in accordance with the criteria that assignments be
of benefit to SSA. Our determinations were based on: interviews of
SSA personnel; reviews of personnel, travel, and financial records;
and reviews of applicable sections of the IPA and SSA`s policies
Our review was prompted by reports issued in 1995 by
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Inspector General
(OIG), regarding EPA`s administration of IPA assignments. The
reports concluded that, although in general the assignments met the
intent of the criteria established for the program, internal controls
over individual assignments needed improvement. Specifically, EPA/OIG
concluded that, in some instances, the IPA program was used more
for the benefit and convenience of the employees than for either
the EPA or host organization. Therefore, the intent, cost, and value
of these assignments were deemed questionable. Since there had been
no recent reviews or oversight of similar assignments at SSA, we
initiated this review.
We found that SSA infrequently used the IPA program
for senior staff (four assignments in 2 years). In three of
the four IPAs, SSA did not benefit from the expenses paid in the
development of these staff because they retired almost immediately
after the completion of the assignment. The cost (salaries and benefits)
to SSA for these three assignments was estimated to be about $568,000.
SSA policy requires IPA assignees to agree to return to the Agency
and serve for a period of time at least equal to the length of the
assignment. This requirement is intended to ensure that SSA receives
the benefit of an employee with enhanced skills for its costs. Failure
to comply with this service requirement renders the assignee liable
for all nonsalary costs associated with the assignment, unless waived
for good cause. We found no documentation to indicate that SSA explored
The service requirement is not effective unless liability
for breach is developed or penalties are established for cases where
the employee did not incur nonsalary expenses as part of the assignment.
Other controls to ensure assignments are of benefit to SSA, such
as requiring evaluations so that SSA can monitor the effectiveness
of the IPA program in meeting its needs, were not used.
We recommend that SSA closely monitor and control IPA
assignments through the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Human
Resources (DCHR) and empower DCHR with authority and responsibility
to ensure that the criteria are followed. We also recommend that
SSA encourage compliance with the service requirement by: 1) developing
liability for nonsalary expenses where an IPA assignee fails to complete
his or her service commitment; 2) considering policy changes to include
additional disincentives other than liability for nonsalary expenses
for failure to comply; and 3) conducting evaluations of each assignment
to ensure the needs of SSA are met.
We also found two other assignments to external organizations
which began as "details" that could be considered de facto
IPAs in that they involved the temporary assignment of personnel
from SSA to an external organization. However, these assignments
were not categorized as IPAs nor did they comply with basic IPA criteria,
such as providing the terms of the assignment in an executed agreement.
They also did not comply with "detail" criteria such as
requiring reimbursement (unless certain criteria are met) and ending
the temporary assignment on or before the authorized "not to
exceed" date. These two assignments were of questionable benefit
to SSA and cost SSA an estimated $975,000. We recommend that SSA
establish controls over such assignments so they can be properly
categorized as an IPA or "detail" and monitored for compliance.
SSA generally agreed with our recommendations (See Appendix B).
In 1995, EPA/OIG reviewed EPA`s administration
of IPA assignments and issued reports on its findings. EPA policy
is to use the IPA program to the maximum extent possible to promote
employee learning and growth. At the time of the EPA/OIG review in
1994-1995, there were 134 active assignments. One report concluded
that in general, EPA`s IPA program met the intent of the IPA
as the assignments were of mutual concern and benefit to the organizations
involved. However, management controls over individual assignments
needed improvement. Some assignments had multiple problems, leading
EPA/OIG to conclude that, in some instances, the IPA program was
used more for the benefit and convenience of the employees than either
the EPA or the organizations to which the employees were assigned,
or was used to "farm out" unwanted employees. The intent
and cost of some assignments, as well as the benefit to EPA, were
Public Law 91-648 (IPA of 1970), which SSA has
augmented with Agency policies and procedures, provides the authority
for IPA assignments. The IPA authorizes the temporary assignment
of personnel between the Federal Government and eligible nonfederal
organizations, such as State and local governments, institutions
of higher learning, and other nonprofit organizations. The main purpose
is to provide mutual benefit to the organizations involved by providing
program and developmental experience for the assigned employee to
enhance the employee`s performance in his or her regular job
and to provide assistance to the host organization that cannot be
obtained from other sources.
Policies and procedures for implementing IPA assignments
are contained in SSA`s AIMS. Pertinent provisions include the
Assignments must be related to SSA`s
programmatic mission and made for the mutual concern and benefit
of the organizations involved.
Assignments may be made on a detail or appointment
basis and should be kept to the minimum time frame necessary
to complete the assigned tasks.
A written IPA agreement must be executed
to document the obligations and responsibilities of the parties
to the assignment.
Cost-sharing arrangements of an assignment
are negotiable. SSA may pay all, some, or none of the costs.
Cost-sharing should reflect the mutual and proportionate benefit
to the respective organizations.
As a condition of accepting a mobility assignment,
an employee must agree to return to SSA and serve for a period
of time equal to the length of the assignment. Failure to do
so will render the employee liable for all costs of the assignment
(except salary), although this liability may be waived for good
Initial IPA assignments may not exceed 2 years
(and may be subsequently extended).
IPA assignments have to be approved by the
Commissioner of Social Security (although this authority has
recently been delegated to the Deputy Commissioners, Inspector
General, and General Counsel).
Organizations must have their eligibility
to participate certified by the Office of Personnel Management
(OPM) before they are eligible to enter into an IPA agreement.
IPA assignments are management-initiated.
However, DCHR`s Office of Training (OT) has been designated
to provide administrative leadership, technical direction, and
coordination of the IPA program. All IPA requests must be screened
and reviewed by OT.
After completion of an IPA, participants
and their supervisors must complete evaluations of the assignments
to determine the overall effectiveness of the program.
The objective of our review was to determine whether
assignments of SSA personnel to external organizations were handled
in accordance with the criteria that assignments be of benefit to
To achieve our objective, we:
reviewed applicable sections of IPA and
related laws, SSA policies and procedures, and internal controls;
interviewed personnel responsible for administering
SSAs IPA program; and
reviewed SSA personnel files, as well as
related payroll and other financial records of employees, who
were identified as having been senior staff who were the subject
of an IPA assignment or otherwise detailed to an external organization
during Fiscal Years (FY) 1994 or 1995.
We reviewed those internal controls which existed during
our review for handling IPAs in accordance with established criteria.
Field work was performed at SSA Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland,
between April 1996 and January 1997. Our audit was performed
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
RESULTS OF REVIEW
SSA infrequently used IPA assignments for senior staff
(four reported cases in 2 years). IPA policies and procedures required
that IPA assignments be of benefit to SSA. In three of the four cases,
the personnel assigned to work outside the Agency retired shortly
after their assignments ended. These three assignments cost SSA about
$568,000 and did not benefit the Agency in that the expertise developed
by these personnel was never available to SSA.
To foster the objective of providing benefit to the
Agency, assignees must agree to serve at SSA after their assignments
are completed for a minimum period equal to the length of their assignments
(or be liable for all nonsalary costs of the assignments) and evaluations
must be prepared so that SSA can monitor the effectiveness of the
IPA program in meeting its needs. In the three assignments that did
not benefit the Agency, there was no documentation that liability
for nonsalary costs was explored or that an evaluation was conducted.
These three cases are described below.
An employee from the Southeastern Program Service Center
was assigned to an agency of the State of Alabama. The IPA agreement
was for 18 months from June 1, 1993, to November 30, 1994,
with an estimated cost of about $124,000. The negotiated SSA share
was 26 percent, or about $32,000. The employee retired with
a separation incentive effective January 3, 1995.
An employee from the Seattle regional office was assigned
to a nonprofit agency in the State of Washington. The IPA agreement
was for 12 months from September 24, 1990, to September 20, 1991.
Two 12-month extensions were approved, as well as a 12-month period
of leave without pay (LWOP). The last extension ended September 17,
The employee worked continuously at the nonprofit organization
for 48 months and retired effective December 31, 1994.
Total estimated SSA share of the expenses for the 3 years of
IPA was about $110,000, not including any benefits paid during the
year of LWOP.
An employee from SSA Headquarters was assigned to the
National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). The IPA agreement was
for 24 months from April 3, 1994, to April 2, 1996,
with an estimated cost of about $208,000. The negotiated SSA share
was the entire (100 percent) estimated cost. The IPA concluded
on May 31, 1996, and the employee retired effective June 3,
Because of a congressional request, the General Accounting
Office (GAO) examined this assignment. They found that the employee
had been assigned to NASI since January 1992, and worked there
continuously through April 1996. GAO estimated the cost to SSA
to be about $426,000. GAO also found that SSA violated OPM regulations
when it allowed the employee to work outside the Agency from January 1992
to April 1994 without any written agreement. GAO concluded that
the employee`s continuous service constituted, in effect, an
IPA assignment, even though it was not in writing. Also, SSA violated
the statutory time limit for the assignment (48 consecutive
months) as the employee worked 52 consecutive months at NASI.
In response to these findings, SSA chose not to comment on the conclusions
reached by GAO, but simply stated that it would ensure that future
IPA assignments met all legal criteria.
During FYs 1994 and 1995, SSA used "details" to
assign two senior staff to outside organizations. According to statutory
criteria, a "detail" is defined as a temporary assignment
of an employee to a different position for a specific period with
the employee returning to his or her duties at the end of a detail.
We have included these cases because, as with IPAs, they involved
the temporary transfer of personnel to external organizations. GAO
reached a similar conclusion in Case 3. Even if not considered IPAs,
these cases indicate problems which should be noted regarding "details" of
senior staff to outside organizations.
The two senior staff who were detailed worked at external
organizations without authorization well beyond the "not to
exceed" date of their assignments. Their personnel files had
not been updated. These two details resulted in about $975,000 in
questionable payroll expenses for SSA. Subsequent to our inquiry,
SSA placed retroactive documentation in the detailees` personnel
files in an attempt to explain their status and whereabouts during
the unauthorized time periods. Generally, details are to be reimbursable
unless specific criteria are met. There is no documentation to indicate
that SSA considered or tried to obtain reimbursement in these cases.
An absence of controls regarding categorization of
such assignments as an IPA or "detail" and the lack of
monitoring for compliance with the applicable criteria allowed this
situation to occur.
These two cases are described below.
This detail assigned an employee from Headquarters
to work at the Federal Quality Institute (FQI). The detail, effective
July 1, 1991, was not to exceed October 28, 1991.
The detail was extended numerous times, until it was terminated December 19, 1994.
The personnel file contained no documentation of any extensions past
July 1993. The estimated payroll costs to SSA for this detail
were about $290,000. After the detail was terminated, the employee
was assigned to work as an Agency representative to the National
Performance Review (NPR).
This detail also assigned an employee from Headquarters
to work at FQI, except that this assignment involved a Senior Executive
Service level employee. The detail started on June 6, 1988,
and lasted until September 30, 1995. The only documentation
in the personnel file was the original detail (not to exceed 1 year);
there was no documentation for any extensions. The estimated payroll
costs to SSA for this detail were about $685,000. After the detail
was terminated, the employee was assigned to work as an Agency representative
to the NPR.
Regarding IPAs, we concluded that SSA receives no benefit
from funds invested in developing employee expertise and experience
when the employee fails to honor his or her service obligation to
the Agency and retires soon after the end of the IPA assignment.
IPA criteria require each employee to agree to serve at SSA after
the assignment for a length of time at least equal to the length
of the IPA assignment. The service requirement is not effective in
ensuring that SSA receives the value of an employee with enhanced
knowledge and experience for its expenses. This occurs because there
is no indication that liability (for nonsalary expenses) for breach
of the service requirement contained in the executed IPA agreement
is developed and because there is no penalty for breach in cases
where the employee did not incur nonsalary expenses as part of the
SSA needs to develop liability for breach of the service
requirement and consider policy revisions to include additional disincentives
for failure to comply.
SSA policy requires evaluations of each assignment
to determine how well the program meets SSA`s needs. This policy
should act as a control in evaluating similar future assignments
and could also act as a control for ongoing assignments if done periodically.
Evaluations were not utilized. Their use could help ensure that SSA
receives value for the funds invested in IPA assignments.
Regarding "details" of senior staff outside
the Agency, we concluded that some cases did not follow criteria
applicable to either an IPA or "detail." The two cases
described are examples of personnel being paid by the Agency with
no controls over their placements or costs. These situations could
be considered de facto IPAs or simply "details" which significantly
exceeded their authorized terms at considerable expense to SSA. These
situations need to be controlled so they can be properly categorized
as an IPA or "detail" and then monitored to ensure compliance
with applicable criteria.
There needs to be increased scrutiny of assignments
when SSA is paying any of the costs when its employees are working
outside the Agency. Had SSA not engaged in the assignments identified
in this report, about $1.5 million of funds could have been put to
better use. IPA assignments resulting in assignees leaving the Agency
without completing their service obligations and a lack of evaluation
of such assignments, as well as nonreimbursable details significantly
exceeding their authorized ending dates, leave the Agency open to
the criticism that it is wasting funds.
We recommend that SSA:
1. Control IPA assignments through DCHR and empower
it with authority and responsibility to ensure that criteria are
followed. Previously, DCHR has acted primarily as a facilitator
for management rather than a control mechanism.
2. Implement the requirement that liability for nonsalary
expenses be developed when an IPA assignee fails to complete his
or her service commitment. SSA should also consider revisions to
the standard IPA agreement to provide additional disincentives
(besides liability for nonsalary expenses) for failure to complete
an agreed-upon service obligation.
3. Conduct evaluations of each completed IPA assignment
to determine whether the assignment was beneficial to SSA.
4. Establish controls for details to external organizations
so that personnel actions regarding length of the assignments and
costs are monitored, and require documentation to justify any costs
that are not reimbursable. Details to external organizations should
be scrutinized to determine whether they should be categorized
as an IPA, "detail," or otherwise, and regardless should
be monitored by a component independent of management which initiated
the assignment to better ensure compliance with applicable criteria.
SSA generally agreed with our recommendations. It agreed
to take specific steps to implement all the recommendations listed
above except the part which recommended that SSA consider including
additional disincentives in the standard IPA agreement for failure
to complete an agreed-upon service obligation. In SSA`s opinion,
it lacks the legal authority to add disincentives to the standard
IPA agreement absent specific legislative and/or regulatory authority.
The full text of SSA`s comments is contained in Appendix B to
We believe SSA should consider seeking the necessary
legal authority to include additional disincentives for failure to
comply with the agreed upon service obligation in the standard IPA
agreement. The current provisions do not provide any meaningful disincentives
for breach in cases where the employee did not incur nonsalary expenses
as part of the assignment.