A-2872, MARCH 15, 1926, 5 COMP. GEN. 727

A-2872: Mar 15, 1926

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WHILE ATTACHED TO OFFICES HAVING ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL OVER THE APPROPRIATIONS FROM WHICH FUNDS ARE ADVANCED TO THEM. IT IS STATED THAT. BOTH THE UNITED STATES AND THE DISBURSING OFFICER WOULD HAVE BEEN PROTECTED.'. IN CASES WHERE LIQUIDATED DAMAGES FOR THE FULL NUMBER OF DAYS DELAY IS DEDUCTED. WILL YOU PLEASE ADVISE IN THIS REGARD? WHILE UNDER THE PRESENT SYSTEM FOR DISBURSEMENTS THESE ACCOUNTABLE OFFICERS ARE FOR THE MOST PART. ATTACHED TO THE OFFICES HAVING ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL OVER THE APPROPRIATIONS FROM WHICH FUNDS ARE ADVANCED TO THEM. THE AUTHORITY OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OVER AN APPROPRIATION IS SIMPLY THE AUTHORITY TO LAWFULLY PLEDGE OR OBLIGATE SUCH APPROPRIATION AS AND FOR THE OBJECT SPECIFIED THEREIN.

A-2872, MARCH 15, 1926, 5 COMP. GEN. 727

DISBURSING OFFICERS - RESPONSIBILITY DISBURSING OFFICERS OF THE GOVERNMENT, WHILE ATTACHED TO OFFICES HAVING ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL OVER THE APPROPRIATIONS FROM WHICH FUNDS ARE ADVANCED TO THEM, MAKE PAYMENTS ON THEIR PERSONAL AND BONDED RESPONSIBILITY AND NOT ON THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DEPARTMENT TO WHICH ATTACHED. THEY SHOULD NOT ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR MAKING PAYMENTS INVOLVING ANY QUESTION OF DOUBT, BUT SHOULD FORWARD CLAIMS GIVING RISE THERETO TO THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE, WITH FULL ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, FOR DIRECT SETTLEMENT.

COMPTROLLER GENERAL MCCARL TO THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, MARCH 15, 1926:

THERE HAS BEEN RECEIVED YOUR LETTER DATED JANUARY 22, 1926, MAKING INQUIRY AS FOLLOWS:

IN YOUR DECISION A-2872, DATED JUNE 14, 1924, IT IS STATED THAT---

"* * * HAD THE DISBURSING OFFICERS FOLLOWED THE OFT-REPEATED DIRECTIONS OF THE ACCOUNTING OFFICERS AND FORWARDED THE VOUCHERS INVOLVING LIQUIDATED DAMAGES TO THIS OFFICE WITH FULL ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION FOR DIRECT SETTLEMENT, BOTH THE UNITED STATES AND THE DISBURSING OFFICER WOULD HAVE BEEN PROTECTED.'

THE QUESTION HAS ARISEN WHETHER, IN CASES WHERE LIQUIDATED DAMAGES FOR THE FULL NUMBER OF DAYS DELAY IS DEDUCTED, PAYMENT MAY BE MADE BY A DISBURSING OFFICER OR WHETHER SUCH CLAIMS ALSO SHOULD BE FORWARDED FOR DIRECT SETTLEMENT. WILL YOU PLEASE ADVISE IN THIS REGARD?

IN CONNECTION WITH THE MATTER THUS SUGGESTED IT MAY BE HELPFUL TO CONTEMPLATE THE TRUE STATUS OF A DISBURSING OFFICER--- HIS DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES. WHILE UNDER THE PRESENT SYSTEM FOR DISBURSEMENTS THESE ACCOUNTABLE OFFICERS ARE FOR THE MOST PART, AND FOR THE SAKE OF CONVENIENCE, ATTACHED TO THE OFFICES HAVING ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL OVER THE APPROPRIATIONS FROM WHICH FUNDS ARE ADVANCED TO THEM, IN MAKING PAYMENTS FROM SUCH FUNDS THEY ACT NOT AS OFFICERS OR EMPLOYEES OF SUCH OFFICE, BUT ON THEIR PERSONAL AND BONDED RESPONSIBILITY. THE AUTHORITY OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OVER AN APPROPRIATION IS SIMPLY THE AUTHORITY TO LAWFULLY PLEDGE OR OBLIGATE SUCH APPROPRIATION AS AND FOR THE OBJECT SPECIFIED THEREIN, AND WHILE THERE IS ADMINISTRATIVE RESPONSIBILITY IN ACCOMPLISHING THE OBJECT OF THE APPROPRIATION, AS SPECIFIED, TO SEE TO IT THAT THE RIGHTS OF THE UNITED STATES ARE AT ALL TIMES FULLY PROTECTED AND PRESERVED, THE ADMINISTRATIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE APPROPRIATION DOES NOT INCLUDE THAT OF MAKING PAYMENTS THEREFROM.

THE BASIC METHOD OF ACCOMPLISHING PAYMENT OF AN OBLIGATION OF THE UNITED STATES IS BY A WARRANT DRAWN ON THE TREASURER OF THE UNITED STATES BY THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY, WHICH WARRANT IS ONLY VALID AFTER IT HAS BEEN COUNTERSIGNED BY THE CHIEF ACCOUNTING OFFICER OF THE UNITED STATES, THUS PERMITTING DETERMINATION BY THE ACCOUNTING OFFICERS, PRIOR TO THE PAYMENT, OF ALL QUESTIONS AS TO THE EXTENT OF THE LIABILITY OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE AVAILABILITY OF THE APPROPRIATION FOR THE PROPOSED USE. BUT TO ACCOMPLISH QUICKLY SUCH ORDINARY PAYMENTS AS ARE FREE FROM DOUBT, FUNDS MAY BE ADVANCED UNDER APPROPRIATIONS TO ACCOUNTABLE OFFICERS (DISBURSING OFFICERS) ON ACCOUNTABLE WARRANTS, AND FOR ALL USES OF THE FUNDS SO ADVANCED SUCH DISBURSING OFFICERS ARE STRICTLY ACCOUNTABLE. THUS, WHEN A VOUCHER IS SUBMITTED TO A DISBURSING OFFICER FOR PAYMENT, HE FUNCTIONS THEREON NOT AS AN OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICE HAVING ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL OF THE APPROPRIATIONS INVOLVED, BUT ON HIS PERSONAL AND BONDED RESPONSIBILITY, AND HIS RESPONSIBILITY IS SUCH THAT HE SHOULD NOT MAKE PAYMENT UNLESS HE IS POSSESSED OF ALL MATERIAL FACTS IN THE MATTER AND IS SURE THEREFROM THAT THERE IS NO REASONABLE GROUND TO DOUBT THE LIABILITY OF THE UNITED STATES, AS CLAIMED, OR THE AVAILABILITY OF THE APPROPRIATION FOR THE PROPOSED USE. IN THE EVENT OF THERE APPEARING ANY REASONABLE GROUND FOR DOUBT AS TO EITHER OF THE ESSENTIALS MENTIONED, OR ANY OTHER MATERIAL MATTER, IT IS HIS DUTY NOT TO PAY BUT TO TRANSMIT THE ENTIRE MATTER TO THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE FOR AN ADVANCE DECISION OR FOR DIRECT SETTLEMENT, STATING THE DOUBT THEREIN. A PAYMENT BY A DISBURSING OFFICER FROM FUNDS SO ADVANCED TO HIM DETERMINES NOTHING AS TO THE RIGHTS OF THE UNITED STATES OR THE PAYEE IN THE TRANSACTION, AND IF A PAYMENT SO MADE IS FOUND BY THE ACCOUNTING OFFICERS OF THE UNITED STATES NOT PROPER FOR CREDITING UNDER THE LAW IT IS USUALLY AN ANNOYING AND LABORIOUS PROCEDURE FOR THE DISBURSING OFFICER TO RECOUP BY RECOVERY FROM THE PAYEE, AND IT SOME TIMES OCCURS THAT RECOVERY CAN NOT BE HAD DUE TO ONE OR MORE OF MANY POSSIBLE REASONS, IN WHICH EVENT THE DISBURSING OFFICER AND HIS SURETY MUST BE HELD RESPONSIBLE. THEN, TOO, IT IS A PROCEDURE OFTEN EXPENSIVE TO THE UNITED STATES TO ACCOMPLISH RETURN TO THE TREASURY OF UNAUTHORIZED PAYMENTS--- EVEN WHERE THE ACCOUNTABLE OFFICER INVOLVED IS ADEQUATELY BONDED--- AND FOR SUCH REASON, IF THERE WERE NO OTHERS, IT IS IMPORTANT TO THE UNITED STATES THAT PAYMENT OF DOUBTFUL DEMANDS BE NOT MADE BY DISBURSING OFFICERS.

WITH REFERENCE TO YOUR SPECIFIC QUESTION IT MAY BE SAID THAT WHERE A CONTRACT PROVIDES FOR LIQUIDATED DAMAGES IN THE EVENT OF FAILURE TO COMPLETE WITHIN THE CONTRACT PERIOD AND THE SUBMISSION TO THE DISBURSING OFFICER FOR PAYMENT SHOWS THE FACTS ARE CLEAR AND UNDISPUTED AS TO THE AMOUNT FOR DEDUCTION BECAUSE OF THE DELAY, IT WOULD APPEAR THAT A DISBURSING OFFICER WOULD BE ASSUMING LITTLE IN EFFECTING PAYMENT--- BEING SURE, IN ADDITION TO OTHER MATTERS FOR HIS ATTENTION, TO DEDUCT THE FULL AMOUNT SO APPEARING DUE THE UNITED STATES AS LIQUIDATED DAMAGES. IN THE EVENT, HOWEVER, OF ANY DOUBT IN THE MATTER, OR ANY DISPUTE AS TO THE RIGHTS OF THE PARTIES, THE MATTER SHOULD BE FORWARDED TO THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WITH FULL ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, FOR DIRECT SETTLEMENT. EVERY EFFORT IS MADE IN THIS OFFICE TO GIVE PROMPT ATTENTION TO FINAL SETTLEMENT MATTERS, BUT PROMPT ACTION HERE IS LARGELY DEPENDENT UPON THE COMPLETENESS OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT AS TO THE MATERIAL FACTS, INCLUDING A CLEAR STATEMENT OF THE CONTRACTOR'S CONTENTIONS.