Reference Manual 7 - Chapter 7: Reimbursement

Note: This page contains Chapter 7 of Reference Manual 7 that accompanies Director's Order 7, Volunteers-In-Parks. Users of RM-7 are strongly encouraged to check this page for updates before utilizing previously viewed, printed, or downloaded materials.

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Reimbursement Policy

The NPS has the authority to reimburse volunteers for actual out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of VIP activities. Out-of-pocket expenses may include:

  • Transportation

  • Uniforms

  • Lodging

  • Subsistence (food, water, laundry, etc., as designated in policy)

  • Incidental expenses

Wages, stipends, honorariums, and/or living allowances are not considered eligible reimbursement costs.

It is important to note that reimbursement is not mandatory. The NPS is not obligated to provide any reimbursement to volunteers for any purpose. Reimbursements are meant to offset the personal cost of volunteering. They are not constrained to the physical park boundaries as long as the volunteer is performing the duties in the volunteer service agreement.

All reimbursements must be made in accordance with current IRS guidelines.

Food

Food reimbursement can include volunteer expenses incurred while purchasing food from a restaurant or similar type food vendor and the customary tip for the location (not to exceed 20 percent). Reimbursement of food purchased at grocery or similar type stores is allowable; however, reimbursement must be limited to expenses that are reasonably necessary while the employee is on volunteer assignment (e.g., the volunteer cannot be reimbursed for the equivalent of one month of food when he/she is only serving as a volunteer for one week). The reimbursement of alcohol, tobacco, or similar products is prohibited.

Volunteers may only receive per diem meal reimbursement through invitational travel (see Claiming Reimbursement). Volunteers may not receive a flat rate “stipend” from the NPS.

Other Incidental Expenses

Volunteers may receive reimbursement for incidental expenses directly related to the operation of the volunteer program, such as medical exams (when required for specific positions), fingerprints, volunteer training tuition and materials, uniforms and costumes, special tools, and equipment. Whenever possible, supplies and materials for volunteers should be purchased with an NPS purchase card, instead of volunteers making supply purchases with their own funds or credit cards.

Establish Park/Program Reimbursement Policy

Superintendent/manager have the discretion to determine which reimbursements will be authorized and may set a limit or not-to-exceed amount on what volunteers may claim. Each park and program, therefore, should create a local reimbursement policy and include it in the volunteer service agreement. Reimbursement rates must be at or below the local per diem rate.

Parks and programs cannot give volunteers a “flat rate” reimbursement. For example, the NPS cannot give the volunteer $20 a day for lunch with the expectation or assumption that they will or did spend $20. However, the NPS can reimburse a volunteer $20 (the local limit) for a $25 lunch expense incurred while volunteering if they have a receipt.

Claiming Reimbursement

There are two methods for reimbursing volunteers:

  • Invitational travel, through Federal Travel Regulations (FTR, 41 CFR 300–304) and

  • OF 1164, through 54 USC 102301(b)

Each method has different requirements, processes, and documentation. The highlights of each method are summarized in the following chart, with additional explanation below. In all cases, accurate and current records of expenditures must be maintained.

Whenever possible, purchases should be made through the government procurement process rather than directly by the volunteer.

Method Authorization Status Can Be Used For Park Considerations Volunteer Considerations Park Actions
Invitational travel, via Concur Federal travel reimbursement through 41 CFR 300-304 “Away from home” Travel only (transportation, per diem, and miscellaneous expenses)

Impacts park/program travel ceiling

Adheres to standard Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) and reimbursement limits

Parks/programs must set up volunteer as a “vendor”

Does not create a taxable event

Must provide bank information for EFT payment process

Exception process for international volunteers

Issue a TDY travel authorization
Form OF 1164 54 USC 102301(b)

“Away from home”

or

“Not away from home”

Travel, food, PPE, training, medical exams, uniform items, etc.

Follows FTR to determine what travel charges are allowable (e.g., cannot be used for alcohol or tobacco)

Expenses should be coded against the FBMS Commitment Item (BOC) 118C. Use of this BOC does not count against the travel ceiling or create a taxable event for the volunteer

If used for travel, additional limitations may apply (e.g., park-set caps on the amount of food per day that can be reimbursed)

Volunteers may NOT receive a flat-rate meal reimbursement

Receipts required to verify charges Establish local reimbursement guidance to answer “What allowable expenses will be reimbursed and up to what limit?

Reimbursement Requirements

For the purpose of reimbursement, each volunteer service agreement should include the following information:

  • Volunteer’s name

  • Volunteer’s permanent home address or, if the volunteer’s permanent home address is a mobile home, the statement “volunteer resides in a mobile home”

  • Volunteer’s park and park address

  • Date or dates the individual will be serving as a volunteer

  • A statement indicating if the employee is authorized to be reimbursed for expenses under 54 USC 102301(b)

    • If being reimbursed under 54 USC 102301(b), a listing of what expenses may be reimbursed to the volunteer and any limitations to the volunteer’s reimbursement (e.g., reimbursement limited to $20 a day)

  • The following statement: “I agree that I have not accepted, and will not accept, duplicate reimbursement for relocation expenses from public or private sources. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, no third party has accepted duplicate reimbursement for my relocation expenses.”

Travel Status

Travel status (“away from home” versus “not away from home”) determines what volunteers may be reimbursed for. In accordance with the local reimbursement policy, the park or program can designate a duty station within the volunteer service agreement that will also serve as the home of record. This can be important when determining whether a volunteer is “away from home” or “not away from home.”

Away from Home

For reimbursement purposes, a volunteer is considered “away from home” when all of the following situations exist:

  • The volunteer’s residence while volunteering is greater than 50 miles from the duty station.

  • The volunteer cannot reasonably commute to and from their residence to the duty station on a daily basis without requiring overnight travel or stopping for substantial sleep or rest.

  • The volunteer’s primary residence is not a recreational vehicle, travel trailer, or similar home without a permanent physical address. A permanent address must be a habitable structure, not a mailing address.

When a volunteer is considered “away from home,” the following reimbursement standards apply:

  • Mileage: Mileage for commuting from a residence to an assigned duty station is reimbursed based on the prevailing IRS mileage rate for charitable service. Mileage for on-duty travel (when a government vehicle is not available) may be reimbursed at the charitable rate, or the volunteer may be put on invitational travel and be reimbursed at the standard federal mileage rates.

  • Other Transportation Costs: In addition to mileage, the actual cost of tolls, ferries, public transportation services, and similar types of expenses may be reimbursed. Under the “away from home” category, volunteers can be reimbursed for their airfare costs using either of the methods shown in the chart.

  • Meals: Volunteers who are “away from home” may be reimbursed for the actual cost of meals, up to the “meals and incidental expenses” (M&IE) portion of the federal per diem rate or specific park or program limit. In limited situations, meals may be provided for the volunteer by the government (see NPS-Provided Food, for additional information).

  • Lodging and Related Expenses: Volunteers “away from home” may be reimbursed for the actual cost of lodging and related expenses, up to the lodging portion of the federal per diem rate or specific park or program limit. The NPS may also provide housing directly to volunteers without billing them.

Not Away from Home

For reimbursement purposes, a volunteer is considered “not away from home” in any of the following situations:

  • The volunteer’s residence while volunteering is less than 50 miles from the volunteer work site.

  • The volunteer can reasonably commute to and from their residence to the work site on a daily basis without requiring overnight travel or stopping for substantial sleep or rest.

  • The volunteer’s primary residence is a recreational vehicle, travel trailer, or similar home without a permanent physical address. A permanent address must be a habitable structure, not a mailing address.

When a volunteer is considered “not away from home,” the following reimbursement standards apply:

  • Mileage: Mileage for commuting from a residence to an assigned duty station is reimbursable based on the prevailing IRS mileage rate for charitable service, at the discretion of the superintendent/manager. Mileage for on-duty travel (when a government vehicle is not available) may be reimbursed at the prevailing charitable rate, or the volunteer may be put on invitational travel and be reimbursed at the prevailing GSA rate.

  • Other Transportation Costs: In addition to mileage, the actual cost of tolls, ferries, public transportation services, and similar types of expenses may be reimbursed.

  • Meals: Volunteers who are “not away from home” may not receive reimbursement for meals. In limited situations, meals may be provided for the volunteer by the government (see NPS-Provided Food).

  • Lodging and Related Expenses: Volunteers “not away from home” may not receive reimbursement for lodging and related expenses. In some limited situations, however, lodging and related expenses may be provided by the government for volunteers who are “not away from home” (e.g., if a volunteer is in a position that requires them to be on call 24/7 or if a volunteer is performing work in the backcountry, and it is not practical for the volunteer to return home each evening).

Volunteers who fall under the “not away from home” category can be reimbursed only using OF 1164. The volunteer must provide receipts for any expenses (regardless of the amount) to receive reimbursement.

Reimbursement Process

Option 1: Invitational Travel

Only volunteers in “away from home” status may be placed on invitational travel. When a volunteer is placed on an invitational travel authorization, they are reimbursed in accordance with the DOI TDY policy. The volunteer must be given an invitational travel letter that clearly states the types of reimbursement the volunteer may receive and, if applicable, any not-to-exceed limits. The volunteer will be placed in the online government travel system (currently Concur), and travel ceilings will apply. Consult DO-31, Section 6: Travel Policies and Procedures and your travel manager for more information.

Invitational travel reimbursement will be processed via electronic fund transfer (direct deposit). If air travel is necessary, tickets must be purchased directly by the NPS. Volunteer travel more than 50 miles beyond park boundaries that will not result in reimbursement may be authorized via a paper travel authorization request form (Form GSA87).

If a park or program establishes a per diem rate lower than the local standard, the rate will need to be manually adjusted in the travel system.

Reimbursements made to volunteers under invitational travel have the same requirements for audit purposes as an employee traveling on official business under a TDY authorization.

Option 2: OF 1164 under 54 USC 102301(b)

Form OF 1164 may be used to reimburse volunteers who are “not away from home” or “away from home.” Volunteer reimbursement made using OF 1164 should be coded under the Budget Object Code (BOC) 118C, Non-Federal Employee Compensation/Awards.

To initiate reimbursement using OF 1164:

  1. The volunteer provides banking information and submits a typed vendor request form to the Accounting Operations Center (AOC) (ask budget staff for assistance, if needed).

  2. The volunteer fills out the claim form with their expenses. For mileage, the volunteer must include a time sheet that shows starting and ending points for each day of travel and the total distance travelled. For other expenses, the volunteer must provide itemized receipts (including for meal reimbursement). Volunteers may NOT receive a flat-rate meal reimbursement amount. Volunteers must include the following information and supporting documentation:

    • The statement “VIP reimbursement” on OF 1164

    • An itemized listing of expenses, the date the expense was incurred, description of the expense (e.g., mileage on January 1 from residence to volunteer site), and the amount of reimbursement requested for each expense

    • Volunteer’s signature

    • Authorized approving official’s signature

    • Receipt for each expense claimed for reimbursement

    • Copy of the volunteer service agreement

  3. The volunteer signs page two of the claim.

  4. The supervisor provides an account number and signs page two, approving the claim and filling in the total amount. The supervisor provides an account number. The budget person signs the “Authorizing Certifying and Paying Officer” section on the second page.

  5. The vendor number is written on the first page of OF 1164.

  6. Budget staff submit the claim to AOC through FBMS.

Upon completion, volunteer supervisors must ensure all documentation meets NPS audit requirements.

Group Reimbursement

Groups also may claim reimbursement using OF 1164. Each group member must complete their own OF 1164 and vendor form, or the group leader may request reimbursement on behalf of a whole group and then distribute the reimbursement funds on their own.

Individual park and program procedures may vary; consult with park budget personnel for more information.

Non-US Citizen Reimbursement

If the volunteer is not a US citizen or does not have a US bank account, they may apply for an EFT (electronic funds transfer) waiver. Budget staff can provide an EFT waiver form. The reimbursement process otherwise remains the same; however, instead of a direct deposit, AOC will issue a treasury check.

Last updated: December 18, 2019

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