Relief of Accountable Officer at Veterans Affairs Medical Center
B-309267, Jan 15, 2008
This responds to your request of March 26, 2007, that we relieve Joan C. Jackson, former principal cashier at the Washington, D.C., Veterans Affairs Medical Center, for physical losses that occurred in February and March 2001 and January 2003. Letter from Edward J. Murray, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance, Department of Veterans Affairs, to Gary L. Kepplinger, General Counsel, GAO, Mar. 26, 2007. At issue here are two losses--one of $3,280 that occurred in 2001 and a second of $123 that occurred in 2003.
We deny relief for the loss of $3,280 in patient funds receipts from 2001. In 1991, GAO delegated to agencies the authority to resolve losses of less than $3,000. B-243749, Oct. 22, 1991. Thus, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may resolve administratively the loss of $123 in patient funds receipts from 2003 in a manner consistent with this decision and our prior decisions.
B-309267, Relief of Accountable Officer at Veterans Affairs Medical Center, January 15, 2008
Mr. Edward J. Murray
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance
Department of Veterans Affairs
Dear Mr. Murray:
This responds to your request of
Joan Jackson was employed as a principal cashier at the
A number of unexplained losses of patient funds occurred during February and March 2001 and again during January 2003. Ms. Jackson was the responsible cashier for the receipts set out below, totaling $3,403, all of which were lost. See Memorandum from Sanford M. Garfunkel, Director, DC VAMC, to Chief Financial Officer, Veterans Health Administration, Determination of Fault or Negligence in Patient Funds Shortages,
|Date of Receipt||Amount|
Source: VAMC Memo, attachments A–C.
VA has already denied relief to Ms. Jackson for a loss of $2,629, which resulted from eight additional missing receipts. See VAMC Memo, at para. 5(a)(2). The VA found that although Ms. Jackson claimed to have deposited those funds on
For the remainder of the patient fund losses, which total $3,403, there are copies of each receipt for patient funds signed by Ms. Jackson. See VAMC Memo, attachments B and C. However, there is no record of deposit slips for any of the funds in question. See VAMC Memo, at paras. 5(b), (c). Although these receipts were entered into
GAO'S AUTHORITY TO RELIEVE
GAO has the authority to relieve accountable officers from liability for physical losses when the agency has made a determination that the officer was carrying out official duties when the loss occurred and the loss was not the result of fault or negligence by the officer. 31 U.S.C. sect. 3527(a). Although the money involved in this case was patient money and not government money, a loss of patient funds from a VA hospital while in the custody of the
GAO has delegated the authority to resolve losses of less than $3,000 to the agency in which the loss occurred. B-243749,
All of the losses forwarded to us for consideration in this case involve the same accountable officer. All involve unexplained losses in the patient funds account. For each loss, there was a receipt generated, but no record of a deposit slip. The losses in 2001 occurred over a relatively brief period of time, about seven weeks. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we find them to be similar incidents. On the other hand, the losses from January 2003 cannot be said to have occurred at about the same time as those from 2001 and thus may not be combined with the 2001 losses. Therefore, we view the lost receipts from February and March of 2001 to be similar incidents and consider them as one loss for the purpose of deciding this case. Also, we view the three lost receipts from January 2003 to be similar incidents that should be considered a second loss. Since the missing receipts from 2001 total $ 3,280, GAO retains the authority to resolve that loss. Because the 2003 lost receipts total only $123, the 2003 loss may be resolved administratively by VA, consistent with the standards for relief set forth in 31 U.S.C. sect. 3527(a) and in relevant guidance from this and previous GAO decisions. See 7 GAO-PPM sections 8.9.C, 8.9.A.
When, as in this case, there is an unexplained loss, a presumption of negligence arises on the part of the accountable officer. See B-227714,
In its initial assessment of the losses attributed to Ms. Jackson, VA stated that there was pervasive laxity in the administration of patient funds and argued for relief on this basis. On occasion, we have found that evidence establishing a pervasive laxity in agency procedures may rebut a presumption of negligence. See B-182386,
VA cited three specific decisions to support its argument: B-271896,
In addition, in prior decisions we have considered situations in which accountable officers have brought their concerns about the security of funds to the attention of agency management officials who failed to respond. While we have not required accountable officers to do so as a condition for granting relief, we have treated such actions as evidence of laxity on the part of agency management. Thus, where an accountable officer requested that the combination to her safe be changed, we considered her supervisor's failure to change the combination evidence of pervasive laxity. See B'232744, Dec. 9, 1988. In this case, however, there is no evidence that Ms. Jackson brought any security concerns to the attention of her superiors.
Instead of citing examples of physical insecurity, VA has stated that pervasive laxity existed due to the failure of the accounting office to perform monthly reconciliations between FMS and
Accordingly, we deny relief for loss of patient funds receipts from February and March 2001, in an amount totaling $ 3,280. VA may resolve the $123 loss from March 2003 administratively consistent with this decision and our prior discussion.
Susan A. Poling
Managing Associate General Counsel
 The record does indicate that in all instances involved, the patients' accounts were credited with the deposits. See Board of Investigation Report at para. 4(A)(1).
 The main duty of the co-payment teller, who works out of the cashier's office, is to collect copayments from patients for medical care they received at the VAMC. None of the funds considered in this decision were collected as co-payments.