B-123645, JULY 19, 1955, 35 COMP. GEN. 28

B-123645: Jul 19, 1955

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TELEPHONES - PRIVATE RESIDENCES - STATUTORY PROHIBITION - OFFICIAL NECESSITY FOR SERVICE THE EXPENDITURE OF APPROPRIATED FUNDS FOR INSTALLATION OF TELEPHONES IN GOVERNMENT-OWNED RESIDENCES OF OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES AT AN AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT SHEEP EXPERIMENT STATION IS PRECLUDED BY 31 U.S.C. 679. IRRESPECTIVE OF THE DESIRABILITY OR NECESSITY FOR SUCH SERVICE WHEN THE STATION IS CLOSED. 1955: REFERENCE IS MADE TO YOUR LETTER OF APRIL 18. THE BILLING IS FOR THE AMOUNT OF $200 WHICH REPRESENTS MEMBERSHIP AND EQUITY FEES ASSESSED FOR THE INSTALLATION OF TELEPHONES IN FOUR GOVERNMENT-OWNED BUILDINGS. THE INVOLVED BUILDINGS ARE THE RESIDENCE OF THE DIRECTOR. A VOUCHER COVERING THE CLAIMED PAYMENT WAS NOT ENCLOSED WITH YOUR LETTER.

B-123645, JULY 19, 1955, 35 COMP. GEN. 28

TELEPHONES - PRIVATE RESIDENCES - STATUTORY PROHIBITION - OFFICIAL NECESSITY FOR SERVICE THE EXPENDITURE OF APPROPRIATED FUNDS FOR INSTALLATION OF TELEPHONES IN GOVERNMENT-OWNED RESIDENCES OF OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES AT AN AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT SHEEP EXPERIMENT STATION IS PRECLUDED BY 31 U.S.C. 679, IRRESPECTIVE OF THE DESIRABILITY OR NECESSITY FOR SUCH SERVICE WHEN THE STATION IS CLOSED.

TO ARTHUR L. ROHAN, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, JULY 19, 1955:

REFERENCE IS MADE TO YOUR LETTER OF APRIL 18, 1955, REQUESTING A DECISION AS TO THE PROPRIETY OF CERTIFYING FOR PAYMENT A TRANSMITTED BILLING SUBMITTED BY THE MUD LAKE TELEPHONE COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION, INC., DUBOTS, IDAHO, FOR TELEPHONE SERVICE FURNISHED THE U.S. SHEEP EXPERIMENT STATION, NEAR DUBOIS, IDAHO. THE BILLING IS FOR THE AMOUNT OF $200 WHICH REPRESENTS MEMBERSHIP AND EQUITY FEES ASSESSED FOR THE INSTALLATION OF TELEPHONES IN FOUR GOVERNMENT-OWNED BUILDINGS. THE INVOLVED BUILDINGS ARE THE RESIDENCE OF THE DIRECTOR, THE RESIDENCE OF THE ANIMAL HUSBANDMAN IN CHARGE OF OUTSIDE OPERATIONS, A BUILDING USED FOR THE RESIDENCE AND FEEDING OF CERTAIN EMPLOYEES AND OFFICIAL VISITORS, AND THE LABORATORY AND OFFICE BUILDING OF THE STATION. YOUR DOUBT IN THE MATTER CONCERNS THE LEGALITY OF FURNISHING TELEPHONE SERVICE AT GOVERNMENT EXPENSE TO THE THREE RESIDENCE BUILDINGS.

A VOUCHER COVERING THE CLAIMED PAYMENT WAS NOT ENCLOSED WITH YOUR LETTER. ORDINARILY, THE VOUCHER PRESENTED TO A CERTIFYING OFFICER FOR CERTIFICATION MUST ACCOMPANY THE REQUEST FOR A DECISION ON ANY QUESTION OF LAW INVOLVED IN THE CERTIFICATION OF THE VOUCHER. 26 COMP. GEN. 797; 21 ID. 1128. HOWEVER, THE REQUIREMENT FOR A VOUCHER IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE WILL BE WAIVED WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT PROPERLY PREPARED VOUCHERS WILL BE SUBMITTED IN THE FUTURE WITH REQUESTS FOR DECISIONS.

IT APPEARS THAT THE STATION COVERS A LARGE AREA ON WHICH EXPERIMENTS ARE CONDUCTED FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF SHEEP FOR WESTERN RANGES THROUGH THE APPLICATION OF BREEDING METHODS AND THAT THE LABORATORY AND STATION OFFICE IS OFFICIALLY OPEN ONLY FROM 8:00 A.M. TO 5:00 P.M., MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY. IT IS STATED THAT THE INSTALLATION OF THE TELEPHONES IN THE RESIDENCE BUILDINGS WAS AUTHORIZED ON THE BASIS THAT IT WAS NECESSARY TO THE EFFICIENT AND ECONOMIC OPERATION OF THE STATION THAT 24-HOUR TELEPHONE SERVICE BE AVAILABLE AT THE STATION; THAT SUCH SERVICE IS REQUIRED FOR FIRE PROTECTION PURPOSES AND IN ORDER THAT EMPLOYEES OPERATING OUTSIDE OF OFFICE HOURS AND SCATTERED OVER A LARGE AREA MAY REPORT AND RECEIVE INSTRUCTIONS ON UNUSUAL STORM CONDITIONS, OTHER EMERGENCIES, AND THE HEALTH AND WELFARE OF THE VALUABLE ANIMALS UNDER THEIR CONTROL; THAT TELEPHONE CALLS ARE FREQUENTLY RECEIVED OUTSIDE OF OFFICE HOURS FROM THE WASHINGTON OFFICE OF THE SERVICE AND FROM FIRMS AND INDIVIDUALS WHO MAINTAIN DIFFERENT WORKING HOURS THAN THE GOVERNMENT; AND THAT CALLS ARE ALSO RECEIVED OUTSIDE OF OFFICE HOURS TO NOTIFY THE STATION OF THE ARRIVAL BY RAIL AT DUBOIS OF UNEXPECTED OFFICIAL VISITORS AND PERISHABLE EXPRESS SHIPMENTS AND ALSO THAT TELEGRAMS ARE OFTEN DELIVERED BY TELEPHONE AT IRREGULAR HOURS. IT IS FURTHER STATED THAT SEVERAL TIMES IN THE HISTORY OF THE STATION EXCEPTIONALLY SEVERE BLIZZARDS MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO GO FROM THE HOMES TO THE LABORATORY AND OFFICE BUILDING AND URGENT OFFICIAL WORK WAS CONDUCTED FROM THE RESIDENCES OF THE DIRECTOR AND THE ANIMAL HUSBANDMAN.

SECTION 7 OF THE ACT OF AUGUST 23, 1912, 37 STAT. 414, AS AMENDED BY THE ACT OF APRIL 30, 1940, 54 STAT. 175 CODIFIED AS 31 U.S.C. 679, PROVIDES IN PERTINENT PART AS FOLLOWS:

EXCEPT AS OTHERWISE PROVIDED BY LAW, NO MONEY APPROPRIATED BY ANY ACT SHALL BE EXPENDED FOR TELEPHONE SERVICE INSTALLED IN ANY PRIVATE RESIDENCE OR PRIVATE APARTMENT OR FOR TOLLS OR OTHER CHARGES FOR TELEPHONE SERVICE FROM PRIVATE RESIDENCES OR PRIVATE APARTMENTS, EXCEPT FOR LONG-DISTANCE TELEPHONE TOLLS REQUIRED STRICTLY FOR THE PUBLIC BUSINESS, AND SO SHOWN BY VOUCHERS DULY SWORN TO AND APPROVED BY THE HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT, DIVISION, BUREAU, OR OFFICE IN WHICH THE OFFICIAL USING SUCH TELEPHONE OR INCURRING THE EXPENSE OF SUCH TOLLS SHALL BE EMPLOYED: * * *.

THE LANGUAGE OF THIS SECTION IS PLAIN AND COMPREHENSIVE AND CONSTITUTES A MANDATORY PROHIBITION AGAINST THE PAYMENT FROM APPROPRIATED FUNDS OF ANY PART OF THE EXPENSE OF FURNISHING TELEPHONE SERVICE TO A GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE IN A PRIVATE RESIDENCE OR APARTMENT IRRESPECTIVE OF THE DESIRABILITY OR NECESSITY OF SUCH SERVICE FROM AN OFFICIAL STANDPOINT, AND HAS BEEN SO HELD IN A LONG LINE OF DECISIONS. 19 COMP. DEC. 198; 22 ID. 602; 4 COMP. GEN. 19; 7 ID. 651; 11 ID. 87; 15 ID. 885; 21 ID. 239; ID. 997; 26 ID. 668; AND 33 ID. 530. THIS SETTLED INTERPRETATION MUST BE REGARDED AS HAVING CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL, SINCE THE ONLY AMENDMENT ENACTED DURING THE FORTY-TWO YEARS THE ACT HAS BEEN IN EFFECT WAS LIMITED TO THE AUTHORIZATION OF PAYMENT FOR CERTAIN TELEPHONE SERVICE IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES. THE ONLY OTHER EXCEPTION IS THAT CONTAINED IN SECTION 10 OF THE ACT OF APRIL 24, 1950, 64 STAT. 85, 16 U.S.C. 580F, PERTAINING TO THE FOREST SERVICE.

IN THE DECISION REPORTED IN 4 COMP. GEN. 891, TO WHICH YOU REFER, THE TELEPHONE HAD BEEN INSTALLED IN THE RESIDENCE OF THE SUPERINTENDENT OF LIGHTHOUSES IN PUERTO RICO, BUT IN A ROOM OF THE BUILDING EQUIPPED AND USED ONLY AS AN OFFICE WHEREIN THE PUBLIC BUSINESS OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF LIGHTHOUSES WAS TRANSACTED AT TIMES WHEN THE REGULAR OFFICE WAS CLOSED. CONSEQUENTLY, THAT DECISION HAS NO APPLICATION TO THE INSTANT CASE WHERE IT APPEARS THAT THE TELEPHONES INSTALLED IN THE PRIVATE RESIDENCES OF THE DIRECTOR AND ANIMAL HUSBANDMAN ARE NOT LOCATED IN ROOMS EQUIPPED AND USED SOLELY AS OFFICES AND ARE READILY AVAILABLE FOR PERSONAL AS WELL AS OFFICIAL USE AND THAT WHILE THE TELEPHONE INSTALLED IN THE BUILDING USED FOR HOUSING AND FEEDING CERTAIN EMPLOYEES AND OFFICIAL VISITORS IS NOT LOCATED IN A PRIVATE APARTMENT OR ROOM IT IS LIKEWISE READILY AVAILABLE FOR THE PERSONAL USE OF THE EMPLOYEES QUARTERED THEREIN, AS WELL AS THAT OF THE LICENSEE WHO OPERATES THE MESS HALL.

ACCORDINGLY, A VOUCHER STATED TO INCLUDE FEES ASSESSED IN CONNECTION WITH THE INSTALLATION OF TELEPHONES IN THE THREE RESIDENCE BUILDINGS MAY NOT BE CERTIFIED FOR PAYMENT.

WITH REGARD TO YOUR QUESTION AS TO WHETHER PAYMENT OF THE FEES FOR THE LABORATORY AND OFFICE BUILDING TELEPHONE SHOULD BE SET OFF AGAINST PAYMENTS WHICH YOU STATE HAVE ALREADY BEEN MADE FOR MONTHLY SERVICE PROVIDED THE THREE TELEPHONES IN QUESTION, YOU ARE ADVISED THAT THE MATTER OF COLLECTION FROM THE TELEPHONE COMPANY OR FROM THE PERSONS WHO HAD THE PERSONAL USE OF THE TELEPHONES IS AN ADMINISTRATIVE MATTER, AS THIS OFFICE LOOKS TO THE CERTIFYING OFFICER OR HIS SURETY FOR REFUND OF ALL ILLEGAL PAYMENTS. HOWEVER, IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO EFFECT COLLECTION ADMINISTRATIVELY, THE CLAIMS RESULTING FROM THE ERRONEOUS PAYMENTS MAY BE FORWARDED HERE FOR COLLECTION IN ACCORDANCE WITH ESTABLISHED PROCEDURES.