B-143840, OCT. 25, 1960

B-143840: Oct 25, 1960

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THESE ENVELOPES WERE PLACED IN AN OPEN WOODEN FILING BOX. THE BOX WAS THEN GIVEN TO THE DISBURSING OFFICER TO BE PLACED IN HIS SAFE UNTIL THE AFTERNOON. WHEN IT WAS RETURNED TO THE PAYROLL CLERK FOR DISTRIBUTION OF THE PAY ENVELOPES. THE BOX CONTAINING THE ENVELOPES NOT CALLED FOR WAS RETURNED TO THE DISBURSING OFFICER. A FEW DISBURSEMENTS WERE MADE DURING THE MORNING AND THE BOX WAS RETURNED TO THE DISBURSING OFFICER'S SAFE AT LUNCH TIME BY THE ASSISTANT DISBURSING OFFICER. THE BOX REMAINED IN THE SAFE AND THE ENVELOPES WERE REMOVED BY THE PAYROLL CLERK AS EMPLOYEES REQUESTED THEM. IT WAS DISCLOSED THAT DURING THE MORNING OF JULY 28. THAT SOME BILL COLLECTORS ALSO ENTERED THE OFFICE EITHER TO ASCERTAIN FROM THE VOUCHER CLERK WHY BILLS PREVIOUSLY PRESENTED FOR PAYMENT WERE NOT READY AT THE CASHIER'S WINDOW.

B-143840, OCT. 25, 1960

TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE:

BY LETTER OF AUGUST 25, 1960, THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY REQUESTED THAT WE GIVE CONSIDERATION TO GRANTING RELIEF UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF 31 U.S.C. 82A-1 TO DON C. JENSEN, UNITED STATES DISBURSING OFFICER AT CARACAS, VENEZUELA, FOR A SHORTAGE OF BOLIVARS 1,385.25, THE EQUIVALENT OF $415.99, REPORTED IN HIS ACCOUNTS FOR JULY 1959.

THE RECORD DISCLOSES THAT THE SHORTAGE RESULTED FROM THE LOSS OR THEFT OF A PAY ENVELOPE, CONTAINING THE LOCAL CURRENCY PORTION OF AN EMBASSY OFFICER'S BIWEEKLY SALARY, UNDER THE FOLLOWING CIRCUMSTANCES: ON JULY 27, 1959, THE PAYROLL CLERK DREW FROM THE DISBURSING OFFICER THE CASH NECESSARY FOR THE PAYROLL, WHICH SHE INSERTED IN 102 INDIVIDUAL ENVELOPES. THESE ENVELOPES WERE PLACED IN AN OPEN WOODEN FILING BOX. THE BOX WAS THEN GIVEN TO THE DISBURSING OFFICER TO BE PLACED IN HIS SAFE UNTIL THE AFTERNOON, WHEN IT WAS RETURNED TO THE PAYROLL CLERK FOR DISTRIBUTION OF THE PAY ENVELOPES. AT THE END OF THE DAY, THE BOX CONTAINING THE ENVELOPES NOT CALLED FOR WAS RETURNED TO THE DISBURSING OFFICER. THE FOLLOWING DAY, JULY 28, 1959, WHEN THE PAYROLL CLERK AGAIN RECEIVED THE BOX OF UNDISTRIBUTED PAY ENVELOPES FROM THE DISBURSING OFFICER, SHE PLACED IT ON THE TOP OF A FILE CABINET BETWEEN HER DESK AND THE VOUCHER CLERK. A FEW DISBURSEMENTS WERE MADE DURING THE MORNING AND THE BOX WAS RETURNED TO THE DISBURSING OFFICER'S SAFE AT LUNCH TIME BY THE ASSISTANT DISBURSING OFFICER, WHO FOUND IT UNATTENDED AFTER THE PAYROLL CLERK HAD LEFT FOR LUNCH A FEW MINUTES EARLIER. THE BOX REMAINED IN THE SAFE AND THE ENVELOPES WERE REMOVED BY THE PAYROLL CLERK AS EMPLOYEES REQUESTED THEM. IT WAS DISCLOSED THAT DURING THE MORNING OF JULY 28, 1959, SEVERAL EMPLOYEES OF THE EMBASSY ENTERED THE OFFICE TO DRAW THEIR PAY OR TRANSACT OTHER BUSINESS, AND THAT SOME BILL COLLECTORS ALSO ENTERED THE OFFICE EITHER TO ASCERTAIN FROM THE VOUCHER CLERK WHY BILLS PREVIOUSLY PRESENTED FOR PAYMENT WERE NOT READY AT THE CASHIER'S WINDOW, OR TO LEAVE NEW BILLS. NONE OF THESE PERSONS COULD BE IDENTIFIED. ON JULY 30, 1959, THE ENVELOPE HERE INVOLVED COULD NOT BE LOCATED WHEN CALLED FOR AND THE DISBURSING OFFICER MADE PAYMENT OF ITS EQUIVALENT FROM OTHER FUNDS, THEREBY CREATING THE CASH SHORTAGE. A THOROUGH SEARCH WAS INSTITUTED IN AN EFFORT TO FIND THE MISSING PAY ENVELOPE BUT IT WAS NOT RECOVERED. AS A RESULT OF THIS OCCURRENCE, SEVERAL CHANGES WERE MADE IN THE INTERNAL PROCEDURES OF THE BUDGET AND FISCAL OFFICE. THE OPEN WOODEN BOX IN WHICH UNDISTRIBUTED PAY ENVELOPES WERE STORED WAS REPLACED BY A STEEL LOCK BOX. IN ADDITION, PROCEDURES WERE CHANGED SO THAT PAY ENVELOPES WOULD BE ISSUED ONLY THROUGH THE CASHIER'S WINDOW. ALSO, CERTAIN CHANGES WERE MADE IN THE PHYSICAL LAYOUT OF THE BUDGET AND FISCAL UNIT, INCLUDING RELOCATION OF THE DESKS OF THE PAYROLL CLERK AND THE VOUCHER CLERK, AND THE INSTALLATION OF A DUTCH DOOR TO PRECLUDE ENTRY INTO THE DISBURSING OFFICE OF PERSONS OTHER THAN PERSONNEL OF THE UNIT.

THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY'S LETTER STATES THAT, ACTING FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE, HE FINDS THAT THERE IS NOT A CLEAR CASE OF NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE UNITED STATES DISBURSING OFFICER AS THE PRIMARY ACCOUNTABLE OFFICER AND, HENCE, REQUESTS THAT MR. JENSEN BE RELIEVED FROM FURTHER RESPONSIBILITY.

THE RECORD INDICATES THAT THE THEFT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE PHYSICAL ARRANGEMENTS OF THE OFFICE AND THE INTERNAL DISBURSING PROCEDURES. FOREIGN SERVICE DESPATCH NO. 120, DATED AUGUST 20, 1959, SIGNED BY THE AMBASSADOR, IT IS STATED THAT AMPLE EVIDENCE EXISTS THAT THE DISBURSING PROCEDURES WERE NOT DESIGNED TO PROVIDE MAXIMUM PROTECTION AGAINST THEFTS BY PERSONS EITHER WITHIN OR OUTSIDE THE EMBASSY STAFF; THAT THE LACK OF A DAILY RECONCILIATION OF THE UNDISBURSED PAYROLL PRECLUDED ACCURATELY FIXING THE TIME OF THE THEFT AND DELAYED ITS DISCOVERY; THAT THE PAYROLL CLERK CREATED UNUSUALLY AUSPICIOUS CONDITIONS FOR THEFT BY LEAVING THE PAYROLL BOX UNTENDED FOR AT LEAST 5 MINUTES ON JULY 28, 1959; AND THAT THE UNITED STATES DISBURSING OFFICER BEARS THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PERMITTING PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES TO EXIST UNDER WHICH A THEFT COULD BE MADE. THE DESPATCH FURTHER INDICATES DEFICIENCIES IN THE PHYSICAL LAYOUT OF THE OFFICE WHICH CONTRIBUTED TO THE POSSIBILITY OF THEFT, AND RELATES A NUMBER OF CHANGES MADE IN BOTH THE PHYSICAL LAYOUT AND THE DISBURSING PROCEDURES AFTER THE THEFT TO INCREASE SECURITY. EVEN ASIDE FROM THE CLEAR STATEMENT IN THE DESPATCH TO THE EFFECT THAT THE THEFT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY DEFICIENCIES IN PROCEDURES AND LAYOUT, THE VERY FACT THAT IT WAS DEEMED NECESSARY TO MAKE THE INDICATED CHANGES IN ORDER TO PREVENT A REPETITION OF THE THEFT WOULD CONSTITUTE AN ADMISSION THAT THE LAYOUT AND PROCEDURES EXISTING AT THE TIME OF THE THEFT WERE FAULTY.

CLEARLY, THE UNITED STATES DISBURSING OFFICER, AS THE PERSON PRIMARILY RESPONSIBLE FOR SAFEGUARDING AND DISBURSING FUNDS, IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ADEQUACY AND SAFETY OF DISBURSING PROCEDURES AND ALSO OF THE PHYSICAL LAYOUT, AT LEAST INSOFAR AS SUCH LAYOUT MAY AFFECT THE SAFETY OF GOVERNMENT FUNDS. WHILE THE PRACTICE OF LEAVING THE PAY ENVELOPES EXPOSED IN AN OPEN BOX ON TOP OF A FILE CABINET IN A ROOM ACCESSIBLE TO AND FREQUENTED BY NUMEROUS INDIVIDUALS, BOTH EMBASSY PERSONNEL AND OTHERS, CLEARLY CREATES OPPORTUNITY FOR THEFT EVEN WHILE THE PAYROLL CLERK IS AT HER DESK, THERE IS NOTHING IN THE RECORD TO INDICATE THAT THE UNITED STATES DISBURSING OFFICER MADE ANY ATTEMPT TO CHANGE IT UNTIL AFTER THE THEFT. IN OUR OPINION, THE FACT THAT THE UNITED STATES DISBURSING OFFICER PERMITTED THE LONG-STANDING EXISTENCE OF PRACTICES, PROCEDURES, AND PHYSICAL LAYOUT WHICH WERE CONCLUSIVE TO THEFT CONSTITUTES SUCH NEGLIGENCE ON HIS PART AS TO RENDER US UNABLE TO CONCUR WITH THE ADMINISTRATIVE DETERMINATION OF LACK OF NEGLIGENCE. HENCE, WE CANNOT GRANT RELIEF UNDER 31 U.S.C. 82A-1 ON THE BASIS OF THE PRESENT RECORD.