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National Science Foundation Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Assignments

Summary of Standard Terms

The NSF IPA provides an opportunity for University researchers to work at NSF for a limited period without losing their UH employee rights and benefits. Assignments must be with the University's consent and for work of mutual benefit to the University and NSF. The UH employee must be a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization or have signed and attached an NSF Citizenship Affidavit to their application. IPA assignments are management initiated and must be implemented by a written agreement signed by a University official. 

Employee Status

Assignees remain on the University of Houston's payroll in active pay status while assigned to NSF. Salary and benefits continue to be administered by the University. IPA assignees are not federal employees but are subject to provisions and laws governing federal employees' ethics and conduct.

Length of Appointment

Initial assignments may be made for up to two years and may be intermittent or full time. Assignments may be extended at the request of NSF for up to three years. An extension to four years requires approval from NSF's Deputy Director. By law, an IPA assignment may not be extended beyond four years. It is NSF's expectation that IPA assignees will not be employed by NSF in any capacity for at least one year upon completion of their IPA assignment.

Salary Amount

IPA assignee salary is annualized to twelve months while on assignment at NSF. For example, a faculty with a 9-pay-9 appointment of $200,000.00 per year will have an annualized salary of $266,66.67 with a 12-month assignment.

Pay is supplemented, and the agreement amended when:

  • The salary at the home institution is below the minimum of the NSF position.
    • The supplement income is paid directly to the assignee and NSF and will report it on an IRS Form 1099, "Miscellaneous Income," at the end of each year
  • To accommodate increases in:
    • fringe benefit costs
    • salary increases (not exceed the annual Federal pay increase, plus 3%)

In FY 2017, NSF implemented a mandatory 10% cost-sharing of the IPA's academic-year salary and fringe benefits for all new IPA agreements: Unrecovered indirect costs may not be used to fulfill this IPA cost-sharing requirement. Also, lost consulting payments are no longer a reimbursable cost element.

Payroll and Effort Consideration

The salary distribution is outlined in the agreement as a percentage. The NSF funds are set up on a project cost center and managed by the department. When setting up the payroll Position Request Form to fund the assignment, the funding distribution should be as stated in the agreement to avoid overcharging the federal grant.

Leave Accrual Consideration

The assignee must continue to follow the University of Houston Leaves policy while on detail to NSF.  However, before submitting the leave requests to the UH supervisor, leave must be approved by the NSF supervisor. The University department is responsible for leave administration. To avoid leave-accrual discrepancy for ranked faculty members, payroll should be set up based on their UH appointment and the additional months, usually in the summer, paid as summer salary.  Summer and other extended vacation periods are work periods at NSF.

Moving Expenses

The IPA assignee may be entitled to receive a per diem allowance or a round-trip movement of household goods directly from NSF. The rates are based on Federal Travel Regulations and are paid by NSF directly to the assignee and reported to the IRS on form 1099 if the aggregate amount paid is $600.00 or more in a calendar year. The IRS has ruled that under the new tax law, regardless of the length of the assignment, none of the expenses here are deductible. NSF recommends that tax implications be discussed with a CPA or other tax advisor.

Continuing Research at UH While on IPA

NSF has an Independent Research/Development (IR/D) program that permits individuals with approved IR/D plans to maintain involvement with their professional research. IR/D plans might include time, travel expenses, and research costs and must be approved in advance (typically annually) by the supervisor and the human resources and legal staff. In most cases. Sponsored Research Projects might be suspended or undergo an official PI change while working for NSF as an IPA. When the IPA ends, UH must submit a request to change PI to re-appoint the assignee to the award.

NSF-funded IPA travel to the home institution under the Independent Research/Development (IR/D) program will be limited to twelve trips per year.