Request by Retired Military Member for Waiver of Government Claim

B-196548: Jan 23, 1980

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A member of the Navy requested reconsideration of a decision which denied his request for waiver of his debt to the United States. The debt was the result of overpayments of military pay and allowances made to him for a 6-month period. During this period he held the rank of ensign, and was notified that he was not physically qualified for promotion to the rank of lieutenant (jg). However, Navy officials had not been informed of his physical disqualification and initiated a pay raise for him on the basis of his presumed promotion. When the member began receiving the increased pay, he made inquiries about the matter, but the error was not corrected for nearly 6 months. The Claims Division denied his request for waiver of the debt because he knew or should have known that he was being overpaid, and should have set aside the excess payments for reimbursement to the government. In this request for reconsideration, he contended that he had been ensured that no mistake had been made, and the Claims Division's decision had imposed an unreasonable duty upon him to retain all the government checks he received containing the excess payments. Under the governing provisions of the law, a grant of waiver is not a matter of absolute right; it is not allowed if the member should reasonably have known that he was being overpaid. In this case, the member should have been aware that the clerical personnel were incorrect in advising him that no mistake had been made. Although the member was not required not to cash the checks containing the overpayments, it was not unreasonable to expect him to have retained the excess amounts for their return to the government. GAO found that requiring the member to repay those amounts in excess of the payments due him was neither against equity and good conscience nor contrary to the best interests of the United States. Accordingly, the prior decision was sustained.