A-56727, SEPTEMBER 5, 1934, 14 COMP. GEN. 191

A-56727: Sep 5, 1934

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THERE IS A PROVISION ALLOWING A DISCOUNT OF 10 PERCENT FOR PAYMENT ON OR BEFORE THE COMPANY'S STATED DISCOUNT DATE. THE UNITED STATES IS ENTITLED TO THE DISCOUNT EITHER ON THE MINIMUM MONTHLY RATE IF PROPERLY PAYABLE. WHEN THAT MEANING IS PLAIN THE CONTRACT SHOULD BE ENFORCED. FOR WHICH SERVICE THE GOVERNMENT AGREED TO PAY A MINIMUM CHARGE OF $13 PER MONTH IF THE BILL BY METER IN ANY MONTH WAS LESS THAN THAT AMOUNT. IT IS PROVIDED. THE PROVISIONS OF THE CONTRACT WITH REFERENCE TO EMERGENCY LIGHTING AND DISCOUNT ARE AS FOLLOWS: THE COMPANY AGREES TO FURNISH 230-VOLT. FOR WHICH THE GOVERNMENT AGREES TO PAY A MINIMUM CHARGE OF THIRTEEN DOLLARS ($13) PER MONTH IF THE BILL BY METER IN ANY MONTH IS LESS THAN THAT AMOUNT.

A-56727, SEPTEMBER 5, 1934, 14 COMP. GEN. 191

CONTRACTS - EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE - MINIMUM CHARGES - DISCOUNTS - INTERPRETATION WHERE A CONTRACT FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE PROVIDES FOR A STIPULATED MINIMUM RATE PER MONTH AND AFTER SETTING FORTH THE RATE TO BE PAID PER KILOWATT-HOUR, THERE IS A PROVISION ALLOWING A DISCOUNT OF 10 PERCENT FOR PAYMENT ON OR BEFORE THE COMPANY'S STATED DISCOUNT DATE, THE UNITED STATES IS ENTITLED TO THE DISCOUNT EITHER ON THE MINIMUM MONTHLY RATE IF PROPERLY PAYABLE, OR ON AN AMOUNT IN EXCESS THEREOF BASED ON THE RATE PER KILOWATT- HOUR, ON ALL PAYMENTS MADE WITHIN THE DISCOUNT PERIOD. WHEN A CONTRACT MADE WITH THE UNITED STATES HAS BEEN REDUCED TO WRITING, ITS MEANING MUST, IF POSSIBLE, BE ASCERTAINED BY THE LANGUAGE OF THE CONTRACT ITSELF, AND WHEN THAT MEANING IS PLAIN THE CONTRACT SHOULD BE ENFORCED. IF A DISBURSING OFFICER HAS ANY DOUBT AS TO A PROPOSED PAYMENT UNDER A CONTRACT THE DOUBT SHOULD BE RESOLVED IN FAVOR OF THE GOVERNMENT OR THE MATTER PRESENTED TO THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES FOR A DECISION BEFORE PAYMENT.

DECISION BY COMPTROLLER GENERAL MCCARL, SEPTEMBER 5, 1934:

A. L. BERFANGER, DISBURSING CLERK, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, UNITED STATES DETENTION FARM, MILAN, MICH., HAS REQUESTED REVIEW OF THE DISALLOWANCE IN HIS ACCOUNTS IN THE SUM OF $1.30, BEING PART OF THE AMOUNT PAID TO THE DETROIT EDISON CO. ON VOUCHER 398, DATED JUNE 27, 1933, FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE FURNISHED THE UNITED STATES DETENTION FARM, MILAN, MICH., PURSUANT TO CONTRACT J1C-1876, DATED JULY 29, 1932.

IT APPEARS THAT UNDER THE TERMS OF THE CONTRACT THE DETROIT EDISON CO. AGREED TO FURNISH EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE TO THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, UNITED STATES DETENTION FARM, MILAN, CH., FOR WHICH SERVICE THE GOVERNMENT AGREED TO PAY A MINIMUM CHARGE OF $13 PER MONTH IF THE BILL BY METER IN ANY MONTH WAS LESS THAN THAT AMOUNT. IT IS PROVIDED, ALSO, THAT THE RATE FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING ENERGY "SHALL BE AT THE RATE OF 10 CENTS (10 CENTS) PER KILOWATT-HOUR FOR THE FIRST 60 HOURS OF USE AND FOR EACH KILOWATT-HOUR IN EXCESS THEREOF FOUR CENTS (4 CENTS) PER KILOWATT-HOUR.'

ON MONTHLY BILLS PAID FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE THE CONTRACT PROVIDES FOR A DISCOUNT OF 10 PERCENT FOR PAYMENT MADE ON OR BEFORE THE COMPANY'S DISCOUNT DATE. THE PROVISIONS OF THE CONTRACT WITH REFERENCE TO EMERGENCY LIGHTING AND DISCOUNT ARE AS FOLLOWS:

THE COMPANY AGREES TO FURNISH 230-VOLT, SINGLE-PHASE, THREE-WIRE EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE METERED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROVISIONS OF ARTICLE V, FOR WHICH THE GOVERNMENT AGREES TO PAY A MINIMUM CHARGE OF THIRTEEN DOLLARS ($13) PER MONTH IF THE BILL BY METER IN ANY MONTH IS LESS THAN THAT AMOUNT. THE RATE FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING ENERGY SHALL BE AT THE RATE OF TEN CENTS (10 CENTS) PER KILOWATT-HOUR FOR THE FIRST 60 HOURS OF USE AND FOR EACH KILOWATT-HOUR IN EXCESS THEREOF FOUR CENTS (4 CENTS) PER KILOWATT-HOUR.

ON MONTHLY BILLS PAID FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE THE COMPANY SHALL ALLOW A DISCOUNT OF TEN PERCENT (10 PERCENT) FOR PAYMENTS MADE ON OR BEFORE THE COMPANY'S STATED DISCOUNT DATE.

IT APPEARS THAT PAYMENT WAS MADE TO THE SAID DETROIT EDISON CO. WITHIN THE DISCOUNT PERIOD IN THE SUM OF $13 ON THE VOUCHER IN QUESTION WITHOUT DEDUCTION OF ANY DISCOUNT, IT APPARENTLY BEING ASSUMED BY THE DISBURSING OFFICER THAT THE DISCOUNT WAS NOT APPLICABLE WHEN THE AMOUNT OF THE BILL DID NOT EXCEED THE MINIMUM RATE. THE SUM OF $1.30 WAS DISALLOWED IN THE SETTLEMENT OF THE ACCOUNTS OF THE DISBURSING OFFICER CONCERNED, BEING THE AMOUNT OF THE 10-PERCENT DISCOUNT PROVIDED FOR IN THE CONTRACT FOR PAYMENT WITHIN THE COMPANY'S STATED DISCOUNT PERIOD.

IN REQUESTING REVIEW, THE DISBURSING OFFICER CONTENDS THAT THE MINIMUM CHARGE OF $13 PER MONTH FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING IS NOT SUBJECT TO THE 10- PERCENT DISCOUNT, AND IN LETTER OF JULY 25, 1934, STATES IN PART, THAT:

(2) ON JUNE 8, 1933, THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE PREAUDITED AND PASSED FOR PAYMENT BUREAU VOUCHER NO. 247, AND WHICH WAS PAID BY ME ON JUNE 12, 1933, UNDER DISBURSING OFFICER VOUCHER NO. 296, CHECK NO. 474, IN THE AMOUNT OF $448.93. THIS VOUCHER INCLUDED THE REGULAR CHARGES FOR THE PERIOD MARCH 22, 1933, TO APRIL 30, 1933, AND EMERGENCY CHARGES FOR THE PERIOD OF MARCH 23, 1933, TO APRIL 29, 1933; DISCOUNT WAS SHOWN AND TAKEN ON THE REGULAR METER CHARGE, BUT NO DISCOUNT WAS SHOWN OR TAKEN ON THE EMERGENCY METER CHARGE.

(3) THE DISALLOWANCE OF 10 PERCENT OR $1.30 ON DISBURSING OFFICER VOUCHER NO. 398, JUNE QUARTER 1933 IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH THE PREAUDIT OF BUREAU VOUCHER NO. 247, AS PAID ON DISBURSING OFFICER VOUCHER NO. 296. IN MY INTERPRETATION OF THE WORDING OF CONTRACT J1C-1876, AND SUPPLEMENT THERETO UNDER "EMERGENCY LIGHTING," I BELIEVE THAT THE AUDIT DIVISION, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE, IS IN ERROR, WITH RESPECT TO THE DISALLOWANCE OF $1.30 ON DISBURSING OFFICER VOUCHER NO. 398, IN THAT THE METER FOR THE MONTH IN QUESTION SHOWED A ZERO READING.

WITH RESPECT TO THE CONTENTION OF THE DISBURSING OFFICER THAT THE ACTION IN DISALLOWING THE AMOUNT OF THE DISCOUNT ON THE VOUCHER IN QUESTION IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE ACTION PREVIOUSLY TAKEN IN THE PREAUDIT OF VOUCHER NO. 296, PAID JUNE 12, 1933, FOR SIMILAR SERVICES, IT IS TO BE NOTED THAT VOUCHER NO. 296 WAS NOT A $13 VOUCHER BUT A VOUCHER FOR $449.38, OF WHICH $16.48 WAS ON A MINIMUM-CHARGE BASIS COVERING THE PERIOD MARCH 23 TO APRIL 29, 1933, AND PAYMENT THEREON WAS NOT MADE UNTIL JUNE 12, 1933. HENCE, THERE APPEARS NO INCONSISTENCY BETWEEN THE PREAUDIT ACTION ON SAID VOUCHER AND THE POST AUDIT ACTION ON VOUCHER NO. 398. FURTHERMORE, THIS OFFICE HAS REPEATEDLY HELD THAT ACTION TAKEN IN THE AUDIT OF A DISBURSING OFFICER'S ACCOUNT IS NOT TO BE ACCEPTED AS A PRECEDENT FOR THE GUIDANCE OF THE DISBURSING OFFICER IN MAKING OTHER PAYMENTS.

THE RIGHTS AND LIABILITIES OF THE PARTIES AS TO COMPENSATION TO BE PAID UNDER A CONTRACT ARE, OF COURSE, LIMITED BY ITS TERMS WHICH ARE TO BE INTERPRETED ACCORDING TO THE ESTABLISHED RULES OF CONSTRUCTION. WHERE THE CONTRACT CONTAINS AN EXPRESS STIPULATION AS TO THE AMOUNT OF COMPENSATION, SUCH STIPULATION IS CONCLUSIVE ON THE PARTIES AND MEASURES THE AMOUNT OF RECOVERY FOR PERFORMANCE. 3 COMP. GEN. 51; SIMPSON V. UNITED STATES, 172 U.S. 379.

WHEN A CONTRACT MADE WITH THE UNITED STATES HAS BEEN REDUCED TO WRITING, AS IN THIS CASE, ITS MEANING MUST, IF POSSIBLE, BE ASCERTAINED BY THE LANGUAGE OF THE CONTRACT ITSELF AND WHEN THAT MEANING IS PLAIN THE CONTRACT SHOULD BE ENFORCED. FURTHERMORE, WHEN A DISBURSING OFFICER HAS ANY DOUBT AS TO A PROPOSED PAYMENT UNDER A CONTRACT THE DOUBT SHOULD BE RESOLVED IN FAVOR OF THE GOVERNMENT OR THE MATTER PRESENTED TO THIS OFFICE FOR DECISION BEFORE PAYMENT. 11 COMP. DEC. 113; 13 ID. 397.

THE CONTRACT IN THIS CASE, AS HEREINBEFORE NOTED, PROVIDES FOR A "MINIMUM CHARGE OF THIRTEEN DOLLARS ($13) PER MONTH IF THE BILL BY METER IN ANY MONTH IS LESS THAN THAT AMOUNT" AND AFTER SETTING FORTH THE RATE TO BE PAID PER KILOWATT-HOUR, THERE IS A PROVISION THAT "ON MONTHLY BILLS PAID FOR EMERGENCY LIGHTING SERVICE THE COMPANY SHALL ALLOW A DISCOUNT OF TEN PERCENT (10 PERCENT) FOR PAYMENTS MADE ON OR BEFORE THE COMPANY'S STATED DISCOUNT DATE.' IT WOULD SEEM CLEAR FROM THE READING OF THE CONTRACT THAT WHAT WAS INTENDED IS THAT IN CASE THE CURRENT USED IN ANY MONTH AT THE RATES SPECIFIED DID NOT AMOUNT TO $13 OR MORE THE MONTHLY BILL IS TO BE RENDERED FOR $13, AND THAT ON ALL MONTHLY BILLS WHETHER RENDERED FOR $13 OR MORE THAN $13 A DISCOUNT OF 10 PERCENT IS TO BE ALLOWED IF PAYMENT BE MADE WITHIN THE DISCOUNT PERIOD. SHOULD THE CURRENT USED IN ANY MONTH AT THE PRESCRIBED RATES AMOUNT TO EXACTLY $13 OR $13.10 THERE COULD, OF COURSE, BE NO QUESTION AS TO THE APPLICABILITY OF THE DISCOUNT. THAT IS, THE AMOUNT TO BE PAID IF PAYMENT BE MADE WITHIN THE DISCOUNT PERIOD WOULD BE $11.70 OR $11.79. THEN MANIFESTLY, IT WOULD BE ABSURD TO CONTEND THAT FOR A MONTH DURING WHICH NO CURRENT WAS USED THE MONTHLY BILL FOR $13 MUST BE PAID WITHOUT DEDUCTION OF THE DISCOUNT FOR PROMPT PAYMENT.

THE DISALLOWANCE IN THE DISBURSING OFFICER'S ACCOUNT MUST BE AND IS SUSTAINED.