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What is ORAU, and what is ORISE?

Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) is a not-for-profit corporation that supports the scientific research and education enterprise of the nation. ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

ORISE identifies, recruits, and administers research participants who meet program requirements established by DOE. ORISE also administers research participation programs for other federal agencies via interagency agreements between DOE and the other agencies.  

Those interagency agreements define the responsibilities of the program sponsor, i.e., the federal agency. The sponsor must establish the criteria required in selecting research participants, review applicant qualifications, serve as final selection authority of any individual to receive an appointment, and provide the infrastructure and location for the research participant. Most important, the interagency agreement requires that the sponsor provide a mentor who ensures that the research participant meets the requirements stated in in the Terms of Appointment, which all participants must sign. 

Federal agencies that establish research participation programs seek to enhance the educational and workforce development programs offered by local and regional academic institutions; strengthen the scientific and technical manpower base relevant to the agency’ goals; transfer the agency’s knowledge and technology to the academic community, and support the national commitment to science education. 

ORISE programs are non-employee participant programs. Participants in these programs are not employees of either ORAU or the federal sponsor.   They are appointed in programs to gain knowledge, experience, and education as it relates to their field of study. ORISE is an equal opportunity program open to all qualified U.S. citizens without regard to race, sex, religion, color, age, physical or mental disability, national origin, or status as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era.

All ORISE appointments are subject to the availability of funds and may be terminated at any time if appropriated funds are unavailable. The sponsor makes the decision to appoint or renew a participant in the program and communicates that decision to ORAU in writing. ORAU plays no role in that decision and has no influence on the day-to-day supervision of participants in the program. In accordance with the sponsor’s interagency agreement with DOE, ORISE provides program management, recruits applicants, administers stipends, and administers the healthcare plan for participants selected for the sponsor’s research participation program when those participants choose to participate in the ORAU healthcare plan.

The federal sponsor is required to maintain local control of the program and its participants. Federal sponsors may invite ORAU to conduct a site visit to assess the sponsor’s execution of the research participation program and to offer suggestions for improvement. For example, during a site visit, ORAU may assess how the sponsor creates and advertises research opportunities; selects highly qualified applicants; manages the onboarding process for new participants; and executes the complex series of local administrative actions that define and support each fellowship appointment. The program sponsor defines the goals for the site visit and develops the site visit schedule to meet those goals. 

Who establishes the participant’s schedule?

The schedule of participation is established by the participant and the mentor, and it should generally coincide with the operating hours of their assigned facility. Mentors should discuss expectations for the schedule for participation with the participant prior to the appointment start date. The participant is not an employee. The terms “full-time” and part-time” do not imply an employment relationship, but they capture the daily expectation for participation in the program. Similarly, since participants are not employees, no provisions can exist for overtime pay. Therefore, the participant's schedule should be agreed upon by the mentor and the participant before or shortly after participation begins.

What is the policy for absences?

Because ORISE participants are not employees, they do not earn sick leave or annual leave. The sponsoring facility may permit occasional absences without reduction of the stipend payment or termination of the appointment. All absences are at the discretion of the mentor and Program Coordinator.  Participants are not entitled to receive payment or compensation for days not used. 

Federal sponsors may choose to implement guidelines and policies for full-time ORISE participants participating at the sponsor’s federal facilities. Those guidelines are neither approved, composed, nor monitored by ORAU, and the policies implemented by one federal sponsor may differ from that of another federal sponsor or differ between different facilities of the same sponsor.

The general policy implemented by most federal sponsors is to permit participants to be absent from the facility for a defined number of days (12) during each twelve month period of appointment. This “12-day principle” is monitored locally by the Program Coordinator and mentor. Federal holidays and special circumstances (i.e., the facility is closed due to inclement weather) should not count when applying the “12-day principle.”

Absences required for medical reasons; emergency absences for matters involving family members, such as deaths in the family; or long-term absences due to illness will be handled on a case-by-case basis. 

Can an appointment end before the end date specified in the Terms of Appointment? 

Federal sponsors typically provide funding for ORISE appointments in annual (12-month) increments. Continued participation in an ORISE program is dependent on a continuation of funding. If funding is not available, the appointment must end.

Mentors or selecting officials can recommend that an appointment not be renewed or that it be ended immediately, before the end of the appointment, even if funding is available.

Recommendations to end an appointment must be reviewed and approved by the hosting organization’s Program Coordinator and then forwarded to the ORAU group manager for review and approval. The appointments of participants found to be non-compliant with the ORISE Terms of Appointment and/or the installation’s policies and procedures may be ended by ORISE or the selecting official regardless of the recommendation of the mentor. 

If the decision is made to end an appointment before the end date stated in the appointment letter, the sponsor and ORISE should follow this procedure:

  1. The Program Coordinator and mentor should meet face-to-face with the participant to explain why the appointment must end. 
  1. The participant should be given an opportunity to discuss the abbreviated appointment with the selecting official.
  1. The Program Coordinator will inform ORISE that they have explained to the participant why the appointment must end and have given the participant the opportunity to meet with the selecting official.
  1. The selecting official confirms to ORISE that the appointment should end.
  1. ORISE will notify the participant in writing that the appointment has been ended.

In all cases, an ORISE participant him-or herself can elect to end the appointment early.