NPCs are often asked to pay for subscriptions and membership dues for VA employees. Because VA employees are employees of the federal government, they are subject to certain federal ethics standards. To assist NPCs, below is a compilation of position on payment or reimbursement for subscriptions and dues. In addition, NAVREF has developed a sample policy on NPC payment for subscriptions and memberships. This policy reflects VHA Handbook 1200.17 provision 13.d.(1) which specifies “NPC funds may be used to pay for publications and scientific journals that facilitate VA's research and education missions.” The dilemma for NPCs is that often it is necessary or cost-effective to purchase a membership in a scientific society in order to subscribe to scientific journals. Individual memberships are usually significantly less costly than corporate memberships. A reduced conference registration fee often is an added benefit of paying for an individual membership in a professional society.
Brief Summaries of Other Guidance on Payments for Memberships
Federal Ethics Standards prohibit acceptance of “gifts” (anything of monetary value) unless they cost less than $20 or fall under one of the other exceptions in 5 USC 2635.204. Therefore, acceptance by VA employees of a “gift” of a membership is likely to be prohibited under the ethics regulations. However, in a 1996 opinion, VA OGC concluded that “the rules pertaining to gifts from ‘prohibited sources’ and gifts solicited or accepted because of an employee's official position are not applicable to gifts from research corporations.”
Handbook 1200.17. 13.d.(1) Publications. NPC funds may be used to pay for publications and scientific journals that facilitate VA's research and education missions.
Handbook 1200.17. 13.d.(2) Professional Memberships. NPC funds may be used to pay for corporate memberships in professional organizations that facilitate VA's research and education missions.
Internal Revenue Service. The IRS allows a personal or business tax deduction for work related memberships in professional organizations (IRS Publications 529 and 15-B). Professional memberships may be provided as fringe benefits to employees and non-employees. Generally, the value of fringe benefits is not taxable income.
5 USC 5946 prohibits the use of appropriated funds to pay a federal employee’s membership fees in any organization unless the payment is authorized by a specific appropriation or express terms in a general appropriation, or the membership is part of an employee training program authorized by 5 USC 4109 and 4110.
Various OGC and GAO legal opinions hold that appropriated funds may be used to pay for an agency’s membership in a private organization so long as the primary benefit of the membership accrues to the agency rather than its employees, and the agency determines that its membership in a particular organization is necessary to carry out its statutory functions.
2 CRF 230 (formerly OMB Circular A-122) Cost Principles for Nonprofit Organizations. Selected items of cost: #30. Memberships, subscriptions, and professional activity costs.
a. Costs of the organization’s membership in business, technical, and professional organizations are allowable.
b. Costs of the organization’s subscriptions to business, professional and technical periodicals are allowable.
c. Costs of meetings and conferences, when the primary purpose is the dissemination of technical information, are allowable. This includes costs of meals, transportation, rental of facilities, and other items incidental to such meetings or conferences.
d. Costs of membership in any civic or community organization are allowable with prior approval by federal cognizant agency.
e. Costs of membership in any country club or social or dining club or organization are unallowable.
NIH Grants Policy Statement (10/2012) section on selected items of cost (page 91): Dues or Membership Fee - Allowable as an F&A cost for organizational membership in business, professional or technical organizations or societies.
Payment of dues or membership fees for an individual's membership in a professional or technical organization is allowable as a fringe benefit or an employee development cost, if paid according to an established organizational policy consistently applied regardless of the source of funds.