B-123635, JUL. 14, 1955

B-123635: Jul 14, 1955

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TO THE HONORABLE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: REFERENCE IS MADE TO LETTER OF JULY 9. THE RECORD DISCLOSES THAT PAYMENT WAS MADE TO MR. FERGUSON WAS EMPLOYED. IT WAS DETERMINED. - THAT IT WAS ENTITLED TO PAYMENT AND A VOUCHER FOR PAYMENT UNDER THE PURCHASE ORDER WAS PROCESSED AND APPROVED BY THE SAME ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS WHO HAD APPROVED THE PRIOR PAYMENT. ALTHOUGH THERE WAS A SHARP DIFFERENCE OF OPINION AS TO WHICH PAYMENT WAS PROPER. IT DOES NOT APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN SUGGESTED THAT AN ADVANCE DECISION BE REQUESTED FROM US PRIOR TO THE SECOND PAYMENT. NOR DOES IT APPEAR THAT THE CERTIFYING OFFICER WAS ADVISED THAT THE SECOND VOUCHER REPRESENTED IN EFFECT A DUPLICATE PAYMENT. FERGUSON APPARENTLY IS UNABLE TO REPAY THE AMOUNT.

B-123635, JUL. 14, 1955

TO THE HONORABLE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE:

REFERENCE IS MADE TO LETTER OF JULY 9, 1954, FROM THE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT SECRETARY, AND THE ENCLOSURES THERETO, REPORTING AN INDEBTEDNESS OF $279 DUE THE UNITED STATES FROM JOHN O. FERGUSON, RICHTON, MISSISSIPPI, LUMBER GRADER, BY REASON OF THE ERRONEOUS PROCESSING OF A PAYMENT TO HIM BY THE OFFICE OF THE SUPERVISOR OF THE MISSISSIPPI NATIONAL FOREST, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, AND REQUESTING THAT THE CERTIFYING OFFICER INVOLVED BE RELIEVED OF LIABILITY FOR THE ERRONEOUS PAYMENT UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION 2 OF THE ACT OF DECEMBER 29, 1941, 55 STAT. 875 (31 U.S.C. 82C).

THE RECORD DISCLOSES THAT PAYMENT WAS MADE TO MR. FERGUSON ON A PAYROLL VOUCHER FOR SERVICES RENDERED IN GRADING LUMBER, DESPITE THE FACT THAT A PURCHASE ORDER FOR THE SAME SERVICE HAD PREVIOUSLY BEEN ISSUED TO THE A. M. WOOD INSPECTION COMPANY, HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI, BY WHICH MR. FERGUSON WAS EMPLOYED. THEREAFTER, UPON DEMAND BY THE WOOD COMPANY, IT WAS DETERMINED--- APPARENTLY BY THE REGIONAL FISCAL AGENT--- THAT IT WAS ENTITLED TO PAYMENT AND A VOUCHER FOR PAYMENT UNDER THE PURCHASE ORDER WAS PROCESSED AND APPROVED BY THE SAME ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS WHO HAD APPROVED THE PRIOR PAYMENT. ALTHOUGH THERE WAS A SHARP DIFFERENCE OF OPINION AS TO WHICH PAYMENT WAS PROPER, IT DOES NOT APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN SUGGESTED THAT AN ADVANCE DECISION BE REQUESTED FROM US PRIOR TO THE SECOND PAYMENT, NOR DOES IT APPEAR THAT THE CERTIFYING OFFICER WAS ADVISED THAT THE SECOND VOUCHER REPRESENTED IN EFFECT A DUPLICATE PAYMENT.

IT APPEARS THAT MR. FERGUSON APPARENTLY IS UNABLE TO REPAY THE AMOUNT, DUE TO HIS AGE OF OVER 70, HIS FAMILY OF FIVE, HIS PHYSICAL CONDITION, AND HIS RELATIVELY SMALL INCOME FROM RAILROAD RETIREMENT AND SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS. WHILE COLLECTION EFFORTS MADE BY THIS OFFICE HAVE RESULTED IN THE RECEIPT OF AN OFFER FROM MRS. FERGUSON, IN BEHALF OF HER ILL HUSBAND, TO LIQUIDATE THE INDEBTEDNESS BY PAYMENTS OF $10 A MONTH, NO REMITTANCES HAVE BEEN RECEIVED, AND IT IS NOT BELIEVED THAT REFERENCE OF THE CLAIM TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL WOULD SERVE ANY USEFUL PURPOSE.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE RECORD INDICATES THAT CONSIDERABLE CONFUSION IN THE MATTER EXISTED IN THE LOCAL ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE, THE CERTIFICATION OF THE CERTIFYING OFFICER APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN BASED ON OFFICIAL RECORDS PRESENTED TO HIM WHICH WERE REGULAR ON THEIR FACE, WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE OR NOTICE ON HIS PART OF ANY FACTS INDICATING ANY NEED FOR FURTHER INQUIRY. IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, WE FIND THAT THE CERTIFYING OFFICER DID NOT FAIL TO EXERCISE REASONABLE DILIGENCE AND IS THEREFORE ENTITLED TO RELIEF FROM LIABILITY FOR THE PAYMENT EXCEPTED TO, PURSUANT TO THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION 2 OF THE ACT OF DECEMBER 29, 1941, SUPRA.

IT IS NOTED THAT IN ORDER TO LESSEN THE CHANCES OF ANY RECURRENCE OF ERRORS OF THIS KIND, STEPS ARE BEING TAKEN TO REQUIRE IN THE FUTURE CLOSER ATTENTION BY RESPONSIBLE PERSONNEL TO ESTABLISHED CONTROLS IN SUCH CASES. IN THIS CONNECTION, IT IS SUGGESTED THAT EMPHASIS BE PLACED UPON THE ADVISABILITY OF SUBMITTING TO US FOR ADVANCE DECISION OR DIRECT SETTLEMENT ALL PAYMENTS WHICH ARE KNOWN TO THE APPROVING OFFICIALS TO AMOUNT TO A SECOND PAYMENT FOR THE SAME ITEM OF SUPPLIES OR SERVICES.