A-8848, MAY 21, 1925, 4 COMP. GEN. 967

A-8848: May 21, 1925

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Edda Emmanuelli Perez
(202) 512-2853
EmmanuelliPerezE@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

1925: I HAVE YOUR LETTER OF MARCH 31. YOU STATE THAT FOR VARIOUS REASONS THE OWNERS OFTEN PREFER TO LEND SUCH EQUIPMENT WITHOUT CHARGE AND IT IS FELT THAT THEY SHOULD BE REIMBURSED FOR DAMAGES TO THEIR PROPERTY SINCE THE LOAN WAS FOR THE SOLE BENEFIT OF THE GOVERNMENT. PROVIDES: * * * THE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE IS AUTHORIZED TO REIMBURSE OWNERS OF HORSES. SUCH REIMBURSEMENT TO BE MADE FROM ANY AVAILABLE FUNDS IN THE APPROPRIATION TO WHICH THE HIRE OF SUCH EQUIPMENT IS PROPERLY CHARGEABLE. HOWEVER COMMENDABLE THEIR ACTION IN SO DOING MAY HAVE BEEN FROM THE STANDPOINT OF ECONOMY AND PUBLIC- SPIRITEDNESS. IT IS APPARENT THAT THEY ACTED AS VOLUNTEERS. THAT AS SUCH THEY ARE NOT ENTITLED TO REIMBURSEMENT FOR DAMAGES TO THEIR WAGONS SO VOLUNTARILY FURNISHED * * *.

A-8848, MAY 21, 1925, 4 COMP. GEN. 967

PRIVATE PROPERTY - LOST OR DAMAGED BY FOREST SERVICE - GRATUITOUS BAILMENTS UNDER THE ACT OF MARCH 4, 1913, 37 STAT. 843, THE OWNERS OF HORSES, VEHICLES, OR OTHER EQUIPMENT LOANED GRATUITOUSLY TO THE FOREST SERVICE, PURSUANT TO REQUESTS OF EMPLOYEES OF THAT SERVICE FOR USE ON OFFICIAL WORK MAY BE REIMBURSED FOR LOSS OR DESTRUCTION OF OR DAMAGE TO SUCH PROPERTY WHILE BEING SO USED ON OFFICIAL WORK. 21 COMP. DEC. 153, DISTINGUISHED.

ACTING COMPTROLLER GENERAL GINN TO THE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE, MAY 21, 1925:

I HAVE YOUR LETTER OF MARCH 31, 1925, SETTING FORTH AT LENGTH THE DIFFICULTIES ENCOUNTERED IN CONNECTION WITH UNAVOIDABLE DAMAGES TO PRIVATELY OWNED EQUIPMENT BORROWED WITHOUT CHARGE FROM RANCHERS AND OTHERS FOR USE OF THE FIELD FORCES OF THE FOREST SERVICE. YOU STATE THAT FOR VARIOUS REASONS THE OWNERS OFTEN PREFER TO LEND SUCH EQUIPMENT WITHOUT CHARGE AND IT IS FELT THAT THEY SHOULD BE REIMBURSED FOR DAMAGES TO THEIR PROPERTY SINCE THE LOAN WAS FOR THE SOLE BENEFIT OF THE GOVERNMENT, BUT THAT DOUBT HAS ARISEN AS TO YOUR RIGHT TO DO SO BY REASON OF THE DECISION OF THE FORMER COMPTROLLER OF THE TREASURY REPORTED IN 21 COMP. DEC. 153.

THE ACT OF MARCH 4, 1913, 37 STAT. 843, PROVIDES:

* * * THE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE IS AUTHORIZED TO REIMBURSE OWNERS OF HORSES, VEHICLES, AND OTHER EQUIPMENT LOST, DAMAGED, OR DESTROYED WHILE BEING USED FOR NECESSARY FIRE FIGHTING, TRAIL, OR OFFICIAL BUSINESS, SUCH REIMBURSEMENT TO BE MADE FROM ANY AVAILABLE FUNDS IN THE APPROPRIATION TO WHICH THE HIRE OF SUCH EQUIPMENT IS PROPERLY CHARGEABLE.

IN THE CASE FORMING THE BASIS OF THE DECISION IN 21 COMP. DEC. 153 CERTAIN WAGONS BELONGING TO EMPLOYEES OF THE FOREST SERVICE HAD BEEN FURNISHED BY THEM VOLUNTARILY AND ON THEIR OWN INITIATIVE AND USED ON THE WORK OF THE FOREST SERVICE, RESULTING IN DAMAGES TO THE WAGONS FOR WHICH THE EMPLOYEES CLAIMED REIMBURSEMENT COVERING THE COST OF REPAIRS. BASED ON THIS STATE OF FACTS, THE FORMER COMPTROLLER OF THE TREASURY DENIED THE CLAIMS, STATING AS FOLLOWS:

* * * IT WOULD THUS APPEAR THAT THE EMPLOYEES FURNISHED THE WAGONS SOLELY PURSUANT TO THEIR OWN JUDGMENT, AND HOWEVER COMMENDABLE THEIR ACTION IN SO DOING MAY HAVE BEEN FROM THE STANDPOINT OF ECONOMY AND PUBLIC- SPIRITEDNESS, IT IS APPARENT THAT THEY ACTED AS VOLUNTEERS, AND THAT AS SUCH THEY ARE NOT ENTITLED TO REIMBURSEMENT FOR DAMAGES TO THEIR WAGONS SO VOLUNTARILY FURNISHED * * *.

WHERE, HOWEVER, THE HORSES, VEHICLES, OR OTHER EQUIPMENT ARE LOANED BY OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES ON REQUEST OF EMPLOYEES OF THE FOREST SERVICE, THE CASE IS DISTINGUISHABLE FROM THE CASE DECIDED IN 21 COMP. DEC. 153, REFERRED TO ABOVE. SEE 3 COMP. GEN. 117; 27 COMP. DEC. 131 AND 759. WHILE THE DECISION IN 21 COMP. DEC. 153, COMMENTED ON THE NECESSITY OF A CONTRACT FOR THE HIRE OF THE EQUIPMENT IT IS BELIEVED THAT SUCH A REQUIREMENT WAS MERELY FOR THE PURPOSE OF ESTABLISHING THE REAL NATURE OF THE BAILMENT. WHERE, THEREFORE, HORSES, VEHICLES, OR OTHER EQUIPMENT ARE LOANED TO THE FOREST SERVICE, PURSUANT TO REQUESTS OF EMPLOYEES OF THAT SERVICE FOR THE USE OF SUCH PROPERTY ON THE OFFICIAL WORK OF THE SERVICE, AND SUCH PROPERTY IS LOST, DAMAGED, OR DESTROYED WHILE BEING SO USED, THE ACT OF MARCH 4, 1913, SUPRA, CONFERS AUTHORITY TO REIMBURSE THE OWNERS THEREFOR. THE FACT THAT THE USE OF THE PROPERTY WAS REQUESTED FOR THE FOREST SERVICE BY AN EMPLOYEE THEREOF SHOULD APPEAR ON THE VOUCHER MAKING SUCH REIMBURSEMENT, TOGETHER WITH A COMPLETE STATEMENT AS TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE LOSS OR DAMAGE.

I WOULD INVITE ATTENTION TO THE SHOWING OF FACTS NECESSARY TO BE MADE AND THE RULE TO BE FOLLOWED, AS SET FORTH IN DECISION OF THIS OFFICE FEBRUARY 26, 1925, 4 COMP. GEN. 713, WHEREIN IT WAS SAID AS FOLLOWS:

THE DUTIES OF THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE RELATE SPECIFICALLY TO THE SETTLEMENT OF ALL CLAIMS AND DEMANDS BY OR AGAINST THE UNITED STATES AND THE ADJUSTMENT OF ACCOUNTS IN WHICH THE UNITED STATES APPEARS AS DEBTOR OR CREDITOR. THESE DUTIES NECESSARILY INVOLVE THE USES AND AVAILABILITY OF APPROPRIATIONS; AND WHILE IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THESE DUTIES, PARTICULARLY IN VIEW OF THE PRESENT SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT DISBURSEMENTS, THE ACTION TAKEN IS NOT INITIALLY BY THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE BUT BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE CONCERNED, YET ACTION IN THE MATTER EVENTUALLY AND FINALLY MUST BE BY THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE. THE DUTIES OF THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE ARE PURSUANT TO PERMANENT SUBSTANTIVE LAW APPLICABLE GENERALLY, SO THAT APPROPRIATION AUTHORITY OR OTHER LEGISLATIVE AUTHORITY DOES NOT REQUIRE THE EXPRESS REENACTMENT OF OR SPECIFIC SUBJECTION TO SUCH ACCOUNTING DUTIES, BUT ON THE CONTRARY IT WOULD BE NECESSARY FOR EXPRESS AND SPECIFIC STATUTORY PROVISION TO APPEAR TO REMOVE FROM THE JURISDICTION ATTENDANT UPON THE PERFORMANCE OF SUCH ACCOUNTING DUTIES. THE AUTHORITY GIVEN BY THE APPROPRIATION PROVISION WAS PRIMARILY ADMINISTRATIVE, THE SAME AS ANY OTHER ADMINISTRATIVE AUTHORITY. THE PURPOSE WAS TO GIVE AN ADMINISTRATIVE AUTHORITY AND THERE WAS NEITHER PURPOSE NOR NEED TO EXCLUDE THE ACCOUNTING DUTIES; AND THE PERMANENT SUBSTANTIVE LAW RELATING TO ACCOUNTING FOR PUBLIC FUNDS MUST ATTACH TO THE ADMINISTRATIVE AUTHORITY GIVEN BY THE APPROPRIATION PROVISION. THE ONE NEED NOT, MUST NOT, TAKE FROM THE OTHER.

THE REAL AND PRACTICAL QUESTION APPARENTLY INVOLVED CONCERNS THE PERFORMANCE OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE AUTHORITY SO AS TO MEET ACCOUNTING REQUIREMENTS. THE BASIC ADMINISTRATIVE COURSE IS LIMITED TO MATTERS WITHIN THE LAW OF THE APPROPRIATION. THE BASIC ACCOUNTING REQUIREMENT IS THE EXAMINATION OF THE MATTERS TO DETERMINE THAT THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURSE WAS WITHIN THE LAW OF THE APPROPRIATION. HENCE, IN A CLAIM FOR DAMAGES COMPROMISED UNDER THE APPROPRIATION AUTHORITY THERE MUST APPEAR FACTS SHOWING THAT IT WAS "BY REASON OF THE OPERATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, ITS OFFICERS OR EMPLOYEES, IN THE SURVEY, CONSTRUCTION, OPERATION, OR MAINTENANCE OF IRRIGATION WORKS.' THE BASIC CONDITION MUST ALWAYS APPEAR THAT THERE WAS A CLAIM OF THE CHARACTER SPECIFIED BY THE LAW; AND PROBABLY THEREIN LIES THE MOST OF ADMINISTRATIVE DIFFICULTY. IF THERE BE DOUBT OF THE CLAIM BEING WITHIN THE LAW THE MATTER MAY BE SUBMITTED TO THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL FOR DECISION IN ADVANCE OF PAYMENT AS AUTHORIZED BY LAW. ACT OF JULY 31, 1894, 28 STAT. 208. LIKEWISE, THE FACTS MUST SUPPORT THE AMOUNT CLAIMED AND THUS ALSO SUPPORT THE AMOUNT AGREED UPON IN COMPROMISE.