A-41374, MARCH 26, 1932, 11 COMP. GEN. 365

A-41374: Mar 26, 1932

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TELEPHONES IN PRIVATE RESIDENCES - EMBASSIES THE USE OF APPROPRIATED MONEYS IN PAYMENT FOR TELEPHONE SERVICE IN THAT PORTION OF THE GOVERNMENT-OWNED EMBASSY BUILDING ASSIGNED AS RESIDENCE QUARTERS FOR THE AMBASSADOR IS IN CONTRAVENTION OF SECTION 7 OF THE ACT OF AUGUST 23. IT APPEARS THAT FOR THE MAJOR PORTION OF THE PERIOD INVOLVED THERE WAS NO OCCUPANT OF THE RESIDENCE QUARTERS. DURING THIS PERIOD THE QUARTERS WERE UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF CARETAKERS NECESSARY FOR THE UPKEEP. HE WOULD HAVE ELECTED TO HAVE HAD THE SERVICE DISCONTINUED DURING THIS PERIOD OF NONOCCUPANCY OF THE QUARTERS NOTWITHSTANDING THE RESULTING INCONVENIENCE WHICH MIGHT HAVE BEEN CAUSED TO AMERICAN CITIZENS AND OTHERS IN MEXICO CITY WHO CALL THE EMBASSY RESIDENCE WHEN THEY WISH INFORMATION OR ASSISTANCE BOTH DURING AND OUTSIDE OF THE REGULAR OFFICE HOURS OF THE EMBASSY OFFICES.

A-41374, MARCH 26, 1932, 11 COMP. GEN. 365

TELEPHONES IN PRIVATE RESIDENCES - EMBASSIES THE USE OF APPROPRIATED MONEYS IN PAYMENT FOR TELEPHONE SERVICE IN THAT PORTION OF THE GOVERNMENT-OWNED EMBASSY BUILDING ASSIGNED AS RESIDENCE QUARTERS FOR THE AMBASSADOR IS IN CONTRAVENTION OF SECTION 7 OF THE ACT OF AUGUST 23, 1912, 37 STAT. 414. THE FACT THAT ANY PARTICULAR FIELD OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE DID NOT KNOW OF THE PROVISIONS OF SAID ACT UNTIL 1931 FURNISHES NO JUSTIFICATION FOR ALLOWANCE OF CREDIT IN HIS ACCOUNTS FOR PAYMENT CONTRARY TO THE PROVISION OF SAID ACT.

COMPTROLLER GENERAL MCCARL TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE, MARCH 26, 1932:

THERE HAS BEEN RECEIVED YOUR LETTER OF FEBRUARY 26, 1932, RELATIVE TO THE DISALLOWANCE OF CREDIT IN THE ACCOUNT OF ARTHUR BLISS LANE, CHARGE D- AFFAIRES AD INTERIM AT MEXICO CITY, MEXICO, FOR AN ITEM OF $15.61, REPRESENTING THE COST OF TELEPHONE SERVICE FOR THE PERIOD SEPTEMBER 1 TO OCTOBER 31, 1930, IN THE PORTION OF THE GOVERNMENT-OWNED EMBASSY BUILDING ASSIGNED AS RESIDENCE QUARTERS FOR THE AMBASSADOR.

IT APPEARS THAT FOR THE MAJOR PORTION OF THE PERIOD INVOLVED THERE WAS NO OCCUPANT OF THE RESIDENCE QUARTERS, THE RETIRING AMBASSADOR, HON. DWIGHT W. MORROW, HAVING DEPARTED FROM MEXICO CITY ON SEPTEMBER 17, 1930, AND HIS SUCCESSOR, HON. J. REUBEN CLARK, NOT HAVING ARRIVED UNTIL NOVEMBER 21, 1930. DURING THIS PERIOD THE QUARTERS WERE UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF CARETAKERS NECESSARY FOR THE UPKEEP, AND IT HAS BEEN SUGGESTED BY MR. LANE THAT HAD HE BEEN ADVISED OF THE DECISION OF THIS OFFICE OF MARCH 25, 1931, 10 COMP. GEN. 428, HE WOULD HAVE ELECTED TO HAVE HAD THE SERVICE DISCONTINUED DURING THIS PERIOD OF NONOCCUPANCY OF THE QUARTERS NOTWITHSTANDING THE RESULTING INCONVENIENCE WHICH MIGHT HAVE BEEN CAUSED TO AMERICAN CITIZENS AND OTHERS IN MEXICO CITY WHO CALL THE EMBASSY RESIDENCE WHEN THEY WISH INFORMATION OR ASSISTANCE BOTH DURING AND OUTSIDE OF THE REGULAR OFFICE HOURS OF THE EMBASSY OFFICES.

SECTION 7 OF THE ACT OF AUGUST 23, 1912, 37 STAT. 414, PROVIDES:

THAT NO MONEY APPROPRIATED BY THIS OR ANY OTHER ACT SHALL BE EXPENDED FOR TELEPHONE SERVICE INSTALLED IN ANY PRIVATE RESIDENCE OR PRIVATE APARTMENT OR FOR TOLLS OR OTHER CHARGES FOR TELEPHONE SERVICE FROM PRIVATE RESIDENCES OR PRIVATE APARTMENTS, EXCEPT FOR LONG DISTANCE TELEPHONE TOLLS REQUIRED STRICTLY FOR THE PUBLIC BUSINESS, AND SO SHOWN BY VOUCHERS DULY SWORN TO AND APPROVED BY THE HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT, DIVISION, BUREAU, OR OFFICE IN WHICH THE OFFICIAL USING SUCH TELEPHONE OR INCURRING THE EXPENSE OF SUCH TOLLS SHALL BE EMPLOYED.

THE LANGUAGE OF THE SECTION QUOTED IS PLAIN AND COMPREHENSIVE AND HAS BEEN UNIFORMLY CONSIDERED IN A LONG LINE OF DECISIONS AS PROHIBITING THE FURNISHING AT PUBLIC EXPENSE OF PERSONAL TELEPHONE SERVICE TO GOVERNMENT OFFICERS OR EMPLOYEES IN A PRIVATE RESIDENCE OR QUARTERS. SEE 19 COMP. DEC. 198, 202, 350; 21 ID. 248; 22 ID. 602; 4 COMP. GEN. 19, 891; 7 ID. 651. THE DECISION OF MARCH 25, 1931, SUPRA, WAS MERELY DECLARATORY OF THIS LONG-ESTABLISHED RULE, AND THE FACT THAT THIS PARTICULAR FIELD OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE UNDER YOUR JURISDICTION DID NOT KNOW OF THE SAID ACT OF 1912 OR THE NUMEROUS DECISIONS THEREON UNTIL HE RECEIVED A COPY OF THE DECISION OF MARCH 25, 1931, CAN NOT SERVE AS JUSTIFICATION FOR THE ALLOWANCE OF CREDIT FOR A PAYMENT MADE BY AND IN DIRECT CONTRAVENTION OF THE PLAIN PROVISIONS OF THE STATUTE. NOR CAN THE ERRONEOUS ALLOWANCE OF CREDIT IN THE AUDIT OF ACCOUNTS IN ONE INSTANCE BE ACCEPTED AS A PRECEDENT FOR THE ALLOWANCE OF CREDIT FOR SIMILAR ILLEGAL ITEMS IN SUBSEQUENT ACCOUNTS OF ANOTHER OFFICER. THE ACTION OF THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE IN THE AUDIT OR SETTLEMENT OF AN ACCOUNT OR CLAIM DOES NOT CONSTITUTE A DECISION OF THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES SUCH AS ADMINISTRATIVE AND DISBURSING OFFICERS ARE AUTHORIZED TO ACCEPT AS GUIDES AND PRECEDENTS IN OBLIGATING AND DISBURSING PUBLIC MONEYS.

IN VIEW OF THE EXPRESS STATUTORY PROHIBITION IN THE ACT OF AUGUST 23, 1912, SUPRA, AGAINST THE USE OF APPROPRIATED FUNDS FOR THE EXPENSE OF MAINTENANCE OF TELEPHONES IN PRIVATE RESIDENCES OR QUARTERS, THIS OFFICE HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO SUSTAIN THE DISALLOWANCE OF CREDIT FOR PAYMENTS MADE IN CONTRAVENTION THEREOF.

ACCORDINGLY, UPON REVIEW, THE DISALLOWANCE OF CREDIT FOR THE ITEM OF $15.61 MUST BE AND IS SUSTAINED.