B-226811.2, Aug 15, 1988

B-226811.2: Aug 15, 1988

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MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS - Federal Administrative/Legislative Matters - Administrative regulations - Records management - Signatures DIGEST: Question of whether SF 52 must be signed in pen and ink is. Review of instructions accompanying SF 52 would indicate that a pen and ink signature of approving official is not required. Records Management Staff - Norma Stapleson: This is in response to a memorandum dated July 18. "Does a specific legal requirement exist requiring a written signature of the approving official or will another method be acceptable? . "What are the legal requirements for alternative documentary evidence. It is the Department's view that electronic transmission and approval would facilitate the processing of personnel actions in their field offices by eliminating the need to mail the SF 52 to headquarters prior to action.

B-226811.2, Aug 15, 1988

MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS - Federal Administrative/Legislative Matters - Administrative regulations - Records management - Signatures DIGEST: Question of whether SF 52 must be signed in pen and ink is, in the first instance, for the consideration of the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the statutes and promulgated implementing regulations requiring use of SF 52 to initiate personnel actions. However, review of instructions accompanying SF 52 would indicate that a pen and ink signature of approving official is not required. Thus, electronic approval and transmission of information contained on SF 52 would seem to be permissible. Department of Agriculture; Electronic Approval of SF-52, Request for Personnel Action-- B-226811.2-O.M.

Director, Records Management Staff - Norma Stapleson:

This is in response to a memorandum dated July 18, 1988, from Shirley Allen, Manager, Records Creation Branch, RMS, forwarding for our review and comment, an inquiry submitted by the Office of Personnel, Department of Agriculture (Department), asking whether electronic methods of transmission and approval of the SF 52, Request for Personnel Action, may be used to complete this form. Specifically, the Department asks:

-- "Does a specific legal requirement exist requiring a written signature of the approving official or will another method be acceptable?

-- "What are the legal requirements for alternative documentary evidence, in lieu of a written approving official's signature?"

It is the Department's view that electronic transmission and approval would facilitate the processing of personnel actions in their field offices by eliminating the need to mail the SF 52 to headquarters prior to action. However, the Department is concerned as to whether this is authorized since in their view, current Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations require an actual pen and ink signature of the approving official when completing this form (FPM Supp. 296-33, Subch. 3, figure 3- 2, block 38).

Before proceeding we note that questions involving the requirements and application of the statutes administered by the OPM and the regulations promulgated by OPM to implement these statutes are in the first instance for the consideration of OPM. We are unaware of whether OPM has expressed a position on this question and therefore anything we offer is merely for informational purposes at this time.

We note that Part II of the SF 52, Request for Personnel Action, provides information necessary to complete the SF 50, Notification of Personnel Action, should the request be approved. We also note that block 38 of the SF 52 and block 38C of the SF 50 provide a space for the approving official to sign. The instructions accompanying the two forms explaining how they are to be filled out provide as follows:

-- For box 38 of the SF 52, they provide:

"Follow your agency's instructions to obtain approving official's signature and date on SF 52 to certify that action is in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. When the actual pen and ink signature of the approving official does not appear in block 38, then the approving official must sign the SF 50 in pen and ink. With few exceptions (explained in FPM chapter 296), an action may not be effective prior to the date on which it was approved. The approval is indicated by an actual pen and ink signature in either block 38 of Part II of the SF 52 or in block 38C of the SF 50 or SF 50-B (block 42 of the SF 50-A)." FPM Supp. 296-33, Subch. 3, fig. 3-2, C-13.

-- For box 38C of the SF 50, they provide:

"To be authenticated, an action must bear the name of the approving official in block 38C; the name may be signed, stamped, typed, computer printed, or spelled out in punched holes. With few exceptions (explained in FPM Ch. 296), an action may not have an effective date earlier than the date on which it was approved. To be approved, there must be an actual pen and ink signature on either the SF 52 (in block 38 of Part II) or on the SF 50 (in block 38C). Therefore, if the SF 52 bears an actual pen and ink approval signature in block 38 of Part II, the SF 50 may be authenticated by any of the means listed above. If the SF 52 does not bear an actual pen and ink approval signature, then the SF 50 must actually be signed in pen and ink by the approving official." FPM Supp. 296-33, Subch. 4, fig. 4-3, G-2.

Finally, FPM Ch. 296, Subch. 3, Processing Personnel Actions, 3-4, Effective Dates, provides that:

"a. Except as noted below, no personnel action can be made effective prior to the date on which the appointing officer approved the action. (The appointing officer is a person having power by law or by duly delegated authority to make appointments.) That approval will be documented by the appointing officer's pen and ink signature in block 38 of the SF 50/SF 50-B, in block 42 of the SF 50-A, or in block 38 of the SF 52/SF 52-B (or OPM-approved exceptions thereto)."

From the foregoing it would appear that under current regulations it is not necessary that both the SF 52 and SF 50 be signed in pen and ink by the approving official, thus permitting the electronic transmission of the information set forth in the SF 52 and signature by other than pen and ink. Of course under current regulations, if the SF 52 is not signed in pen and ink, the SF 50 would have to be signed in pen and ink and under the current regulations this could have an effect upon the effective date of some personnel notices.

Whether this result can be avoided would depend upon whether OPM may amend its regulations to eliminate the requirement for pen and ink signature or whether this is expressly required by statute, in which case the law would have to be amended. Since the specific statutory basis for the requirement is unclear (although 5 U.S.C. Sec. 2951 is mentioned /1/ in the manual as one source for FPM Ch. 296), OPM should be consulted as to its views as to the legal requirement that the approving official actually sign the SF 52 in pen and ink.

However, if the relevant statutory authority does not expressly require the approving official to sign the SF 52 in pen and ink, we note that we have found electronic signatures acceptable for certifying vouchers for payment, B-216305-O.M., September 20, 1984 (attachment enclosed). Since that memorandum addresses the concerns raised by the Department's inquiry, we have no objection to your providing a copy to the Department's Personnel Office for their consideration.

Attachment

/1/ Section 2951 provides:

"Sec. 2951. Reports to the Office of Personnel Management

"The President may prescribe rules which shall provide, as nearly as conditions of good administration warrant, that--

"(1) the appointing authority notify the Office of Personnel Management in writing of the following actions and their dates as to each individual selected for appointment in the competitive service from among those who have been examined--

"(A) appointment and residence of appointee;

"(B) separation during probation;

"(C)transfer;

"(D) resignation;

"(E) removal; and

"(2) the Office keep records of these actions."

It is unclear to this Office that the SF 52 falls within the statutory language or that, if it does, the law requires that it requires a pen and ink signature to be effective.