July 16, 2020 Public Contract Law

Closing the Science & Technology Gap: Increasing Non-Federal Participation in the Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program through Ethics Reforms

by Jayme C. Selinger

Jayme Selinger is a Contract Law and Intellectual Property Specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory. He holds a law degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and is enrolled in an LLM program in government contracts from The George Washington University Law School. Special thanks to Dave Pronchick for his thoughtful guidance and feedback.

I.   Introduction

The United States military is losing its technical edge to adversaries like China and Russia.1 What the Department of Defense (DoD) is doing about it is no secret — acquisition rules are being bent, and every effort is being made to embrace nontraditional defense contractors.2  But with the stakes as high as they are, the DoD needs to go further and bend the federal ethics rules to its favor.3 By doing so, participation in public-private exchange programs like the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) mobility program will drastically increase, and the U.S. military will have unbridled access to the nation’s top scientists.

Through the IPA mobility program, personnel such as leading researchers are able to embed themselves into governmental positions and bring a unique perspective to issues critical to our national security.4 Unfortunately, the current structure of the IPA mobility program is problematic.5 In particular, researchers on an IPA assignment are deemed to be federal employees and are consequently subject to criminal conflict of interest statutes, including post-employment restrictions.6 This has contributed to the underutilization of the IPA mobility program across agencies, with an average assignment of only about ten non-federal employees per year between 2004 and 2009.7 It is time to reassess the ethics rules for non-federal employees on IPA assignments. This article will first provide an overview of the IPA program and the current ethics rules associated with non-federal participants in the IPA program (IPA or IPAs). Second, it will discuss the problems associated with the current ethics rules. Lastly, the article will make recommendations for improvement.

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