B-229126, Nov 3, 1987, Office of General Counsel

B-229126: Nov 3, 1987

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APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Certifying Officers - Relief - Illegal/Improper Payments - Overpayments DIGEST: Relief is granted where record indicates that procedures had been implemented and communicated to staff which if properly followed would have prevented improper payment. The requested relief is granted. Your submission indicates that checks for paying vendors are computer- generated and that the erroneous payment occurred on October 16. On that day a check was being prepared to pay Classic Medallics when the key punch operator apparently typed the numeric vendor code for Computer Superstores instead. A check was printed for Computer Superstores. The error was not detected when the vendor codes were proofed against the vendor master tile.

B-229126, Nov 3, 1987, Office of General Counsel

APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Certifying Officers - Relief - Illegal/Improper Payments - Overpayments DIGEST: Relief is granted where record indicates that procedures had been implemented and communicated to staff which if properly followed would have prevented improper payment.

General Hall:

This replies to your request that relief be granted, under 31 U.S.C. Sec. 3527(c) (1982), for the improper payment of $308.70, chargeable to the account of Mr. S. Gast, Special Disbursing Agent, DSSN 6376, U.S. Army, Aberdeen Proving Ground Installation Support Activity, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland 21005-5001. As discussed below, the requested relief is granted.

Your submission indicates that checks for paying vendors are computer- generated and that the erroneous payment occurred on October 16, 1985, as the result of a keypunch error. On that day a check was being prepared to pay Classic Medallics when the key punch operator apparently typed the numeric vendor code for Computer Superstores instead. As a result, a check was printed for Computer Superstores. The error was not detected when the vendor codes were proofed against the vendor master tile, nor later when they were inserted into envelopes and the codes were compared to the invoices, and the check was sent to Computer Superstores.

On January 23, 1986, Classic Medallics contacted the agency to request payment and the error was discovered. Because the pertinent records regarding who processes such documents are kept no longer than 3 months, there was no way to identify who was directly responsible for the mistake. By the time the error was discovered, Computer Superstores had cashed the check. Efforts to recover the overpayment were properly concluded when it was learned that Computer Superstores had gone bankrupt.

A disbursing officer such as Mr. Gast is liable for improper payments. However, it the improper payment was not the result of bad faith or the lack of due care, the Comptroller General may grant the disbursing officer relief pursuant to 31 U.S.C. Sec. 3527(c) (1982). 65 Comp.Gen. 858 (1986).

In this case, there is no suggestion of bad faith on the part of Mr. Gast. Therefore, the question is whether Mr. Gast properly supervised his office by maintaining an adequate system of procedures and controls to avoid errors, and took steps to see that the system was being maintained. See B-221395, March 26, 1986. In such a determination, this device typically considers the standard operating procedures governing disbursements, and the statements of the personnel involved. See B-222392, November 12, 1986.

Mr. Gast's statements indicate that procedures had been implemented which if properly followed would have prevented such an error. Personnel were instructed to double-check the pertinent information at several stages in the check issuing process. Apparently the staff failed to perform these checks properly, but there is no evidence that this was due to negligence by Mr. Gast. As we have previously noted, occasional errors such as the clerical error in this case are inevitable even in a properly established and supervised system. B-212336, August 8, 1983. In any event it is reasonable to conclude that personnel were on notice that they were not to issue checks to the wrong payee.

In short, we find that Mr. Gast maintained and regularly practiced procedures at the time of the loss that were adequate to constitute reasonable care. Accordingly, we grant the requested relief.