A-92370, MARCH 14, 1938, 17 COMP. GEN. 737

A-92370: Mar 14, 1938

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IS AS FOLLOWS: REFERENCE IS MADE TO BILLS OF THE WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY NO. 3561 FOR $311.04. WHICH WERE RETURNED TO THE DEPARTMENT AFTER PRE-AUDIT BY THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE CERTIFIED IN THE AMOUNTS OF $308.47. OR ARE IN FURTHERANCE OF. WHILE REFUND HAS BEEN REQUIRED OF THE AMOUNTS CHARGED IN SOME INSTANCES AS THE FEES ARE PROPERLY PAYABLE FROM AUTHORIZED PER DIEMS OR CONVEY INFORMATION AT THE REQUEST OF THE INQUIRERS. IT IS BELIEVED CONTROL THE DETERMINATION WHETHER SUCH MESSAGES ARE OFFICIAL AND MAY BE SENT AND REIMBURSED WHERE NECESSARY AT THE GOVERNMENT RATE IN THE SAME MANNER AS REIMBURSEMENT IS EFFECTED UNDER THE AUTHORITY CONTAINED IN THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE APPROPRIATION ACT.

A-92370, MARCH 14, 1938, 17 COMP. GEN. 737

TELEGRAMS - GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL - RATES FOR PERSONAL MESSAGES IN VIEW OF THE PLAIN TERMS OF THE STANDARDIZED GOVERNMENT TRAVEL REGULATIONS, FEDERAL PERSONNEL MAY NOT BE GRANTED THE ADVANTAGE OF LOWER GOVERNMENT RATES, TAX FREE, FOR TELEGRAMS CONCERNED WITH PERSONAL AFFAIRS, SUCH AS AUTHORIZATIONS OF LEAVE AND REQUESTS FOR HOTEL RESERVATIONS, IN THE ABSENCE OF SPECIFIC AUTHORITY OF LAW OR REGULATION.

ACTING COMPTROLLER GENERAL ELLIOTT TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE, MARCH 14, 1938:

YOUR LETTER OF JANUARY 25, 1938 (BA), IS AS FOLLOWS:

REFERENCE IS MADE TO BILLS OF THE WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY NO. 3561 FOR $311.04, NO. 3596 FOR $218.19, AND NO. 4148 IN THE AMOUNT OF $254.96, WHICH WERE RETURNED TO THE DEPARTMENT AFTER PRE-AUDIT BY THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE CERTIFIED IN THE AMOUNTS OF $308.47, $217.68, AND $253.95, RESPECTIVELY.

THE PRE-AUDIT DIFFERENCE STATEMENTS ACCOMPANYING THE VOUCHERS, IN REFERRING TO DISALLOWANCES ON THE ABOVE BILLS DUE TO PERSONAL MESSAGES SENT FROM THE DEPARTMENT, STATE THAT "CHARGES FOR PERSONAL MESSAGES SHOULD BE COLLECTED FROM THE INTERESTED PARTIES AT THE COMMERCIAL RATE PLUS TAX AND HANDLED IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROVISIONS OF GENERAL REGULATIONS NO. 40, SUPPLEMENTS NOS. 2 AND "

TELEGRAMS DESPATCHED THROUGH THE FACILITIES OF THE DEPARTMENT FOR SUCH PURPOSES RELATE TO, OR ARE IN FURTHERANCE OF, TRANSACTION OF GOVERNMENT BUSINESS, AND WHILE REFUND HAS BEEN REQUIRED OF THE AMOUNTS CHARGED IN SOME INSTANCES AS THE FEES ARE PROPERLY PAYABLE FROM AUTHORIZED PER DIEMS OR CONVEY INFORMATION AT THE REQUEST OF THE INQUIRERS, DETERMINATION OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE, IN HIS DISCRETION, OR BY THOSE OFFICERS BY HIM DESIGNATED OR AUTHORIZED, THAT A MESSAGE SHOULD BE SENT OVER HIS OR THEIR SIGNATURE AND TITLE, SHOULD, IT IS BELIEVED CONTROL THE DETERMINATION WHETHER SUCH MESSAGES ARE OFFICIAL AND MAY BE SENT AND REIMBURSED WHERE NECESSARY AT THE GOVERNMENT RATE IN THE SAME MANNER AS REIMBURSEMENT IS EFFECTED UNDER THE AUTHORITY CONTAINED IN THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE APPROPRIATION ACT, 1936, QUOTED HEREUNDER FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE:

"HEREAFTER, WHENEVER THE SECRETARY OF STATE, IN HIS DISCRETION, PROCURES INFORMATION ON BEHALF OF CORPORATIONS, FIRMS, AND INDIVIDUALS, THE EXPENSE OF CABLEGRAMS AND TELEPHONE SERVICE INVOLVED MAY BE CHARGED AGAINST THE RESPECTIVE APPROPRIATIONS FOR THE SERVICE UTILIZED; AND REIMBURSEMENT THEREFOR SHALL BE REQUIRED FROM THOSE FOR WHOM THE INFORMATION WAS PROCURED, AND, WHEN MADE, BE CREDITED TO THE APPROPRIATION UNDER WHICH THE EXPENDITURE WAS CHARGED.'

TO REQUIRE PAYMENTS IN CASES SUCH AS THOSE UNDER REFERENCE AT THE COMMERCIAL RATE OF EXCHANGE PLUS TAX NOT ONLY PLACES OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES AT A DISADVANTAGE IN THIS RESPECT IN COMPARISON WITH THOSE PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS FOR WHOM INFORMATION IS PROCURED OR SERVICE RENDERED, AND WOULD REQUIRE THE PAYMENT OF A TAX IN CONNECTION WITH THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY PURSUANT TO INSTRUCTION, BUT ALSO, AND MORE PARTICULARLY IF ADHERED TO, WOULD SEEMINGLY WORK AN USURPATION OF THE PREROGATIVE OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO EXERCISE DISCRETION IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THE PUBLIC BUSINESS.

ACCORDINGLY THE DEPARTMENT IS RESUBMITTING FOR RECONSIDERATION SUPPLEMENTAL BILLS OF THE WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY IN THE AMOUNTS OF $0.25, $0.51, AND $0.25 AND CERTIFICATION OF THESE AMOUNTS IS RESPECTFULLY REQUESTED.

THIS LETTER ACCOMPANIED VOUCHERS NOS. 5273, 5374, AND 5375 PRESENTED FOR PREAUDIT, EACH IN FAVOR OF THE WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY, SUBMITTED BY THE BUREAU OF ACCOUNTS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE, ON SCHEDULE NO. 820, DATED JANUARY 26, 1938.

THESE VOUCHERS ADMINISTRATIVELY APPROVED IN THE AMOUNTS OF 25 CENTS, 51 CENTS, AND 25 CENTS, RESPECTIVELY, COVER RECLAIMS OF ITEMS PREVIOUSLY DEDUCTED IN PREAUDIT ON VOUCHERS NOS. 3561, 3596, AND 4148 FOR THE REASON THAT THE MESSAGES, PERTAINING TO THE AUTHORIZATION OF LEAVE AND REQUESTS FOR HOTEL RESERVATIONS OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, ARE OF A PERSONAL NATURE CHARGEABLE TO THE EMPLOYEES.

PARAGRAPH 44 OF THE STANDARDIZED GOVERNMENT TRAVEL REGULATIONS, APPROVED BY THE PRESIDENT AND BINDING UPON THE SECRETARY OF STATE IN THE EXPENDITURE OF APPROPRIATED FUNDS AND ON THIS OFFICE IN THE AUDIT OF EXPENDITURES MADE FROM APPROPRIATED FUNDS, SPECIFICALLY INCLUDES THE COST OF ,TELEGRAMS AND TELEPHONE CALLS RESERVING HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS" AS AN ITEM OF PERSONAL EXPENSE WHICH THE EMPLOYEE MUST PAY OUT OF HIS PER DIEM IN LIEU OF SUBSISTENCE ALLOWANCE. PARAGRAPH 58 OF THE SAME REGULATIONS PROVIDES AS FOLLOWS:

TELEGRAMS, CABLEGRAMS, AND RADIOGRAMS APPLYING FOR LEAVE OF ABSENCE OR EXTENSION THEREOF OR OF INQUIRY AS TO, OR AS TO PAYMENT OF SALARY OR EXPENSE VOUCHERS, AND ANSWERS THERETO, OR THOSE CONTAINING ANY MATTER OF A PURELY PERSONAL NATURE, MUST NOT BE SENT AT GOVERNMENT EXPENSE. THE MERE FACT THAT THE SENDERS IN THE COMMUNICATIONS TO WHICH THERE WERE RESPONSES WERE ADDRESSED BY THEIR OFFICIAL TITLES DOES NOT TRANSFORM TELEGRAMS ON STRICTLY PRIVATE BUSINESS INTO OFFICIAL TELEGRAMS.

IT IS CLEAR, THEREFORE, THAT THE COST OF ALL OF THE TELEGRAMS HERE INVOLVED CONSTITUTED A PERSONAL EXPENSE OF THE OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE WHO SENT THE TELEGRAM OR FOR WHOSE BENEFIT THE TELEGRAM WAS SENT BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE AND CHARGEABLE TO THE OFFICER TO EMPLOYEE.

PARAGRAPH 52 OF THE TRAVEL REGULATIONS PROVIDES, IN PART, THAT "MESSAGES WHICH SHOULD NOT BE PAID FOR BY THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE TREATED AS PERSONAL MESSAGES AT COMMERCIAL RATES.' GENERAL REGULATIONS NO. 40, SUPPLEMENTS NOS. 2 AND 3 OF THIS OFFICE, DATED NOVEMBER 28, 1930, AND OCTOBER 28, 1932, STATE THE PROCEDURE FOR PAYMENTS AND COLLECTIONS IN SUCH CASES, AS STATED IN THE PREAUDIT DIFFERENCE STATEMENTS QUOTED IN YOUR LETTER.

THERE IS NO AUTHORITY OF LAW OR REGULATION GRANTING TO FEDERAL PERSONNEL THE ADVANTAGE OF LOWER GOVERNMENT RATES, TAX FREE, FOR TELEGRAMS CONCERNED WITH PERSONAL AFFAIRS OF FEDERAL OFFICERS OR EMPLOYEES. IN VIEW OF THE PLAIN TERMS OF THE TRAVEL REGULATIONS THERE CAN BE NO ROOM FOR EXERCISE OF DISCRETION BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE IN SUCH CASES. THE STATUTE QUOTED IN YOUR LETTER APPEARS TO HAVE NO APPLICATION IN THE PRESENT MATTER.

ACCORDINGLY, THE RECLAIM VOUCHERS IN QUESTION WILL NOT BE CERTIFIED FOR PAYMENT.