B-230407, Dec 15, 1989

B-230407: Dec 15, 1989

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CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Household goods - Vessels - Restrictions - Liability DIGEST: This summary letter decision addresses well established rules which have been discussed in previous Comptroller General decisions. Must be charged for the cost of shipping and storing a boat trailer which was moved with his household goods at government expense incident to a change in official duty station in 1987. /1/ Mr. Vohs was authorized to move his household goods at government expense. He was aware that the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) specifically defined boats as not being included in the term "household goods.". He further states that he specifically discussed this with a Wildlife Service moving specialist who said she was unaware of any problem in having the government move a boat trailer.

B-230407, Dec 15, 1989

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Household goods - Vessels - Restrictions - Liability DIGEST: This summary letter decision addresses well established rules which have been discussed in previous Comptroller General decisions. To locate substantive decisions addressing this issue, refer to decisions indexed under the above listed index entry.

Paul Vohs:

This responds to a request for a decision concerning whether Mr. Paul Vohs, an employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service, must be charged for the cost of shipping and storing a boat trailer which was moved with his household goods at government expense incident to a change in official duty station in 1987. /1/

Mr. Vohs was authorized to move his household goods at government expense, and he was aware that the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) specifically defined boats as not being included in the term "household goods." Therefore, he moved his canoe and small boat himself on top of his personal vehicles during his transfer. He also had a small boat trailer, and he states that he reviewed the literature provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service concerning his move and found nothing precluding the movement of a boat trailer. He further states that he specifically discussed this with a Wildlife Service moving specialist who said she was unaware of any problem in having the government move a boat trailer. Therefore, he had the trailer moved by the commercial mover along with his household goods.

In a case involving a boat and boat trailer we held that the boat trailer was "an appurtenance of the boat" and could not be considered as household goods under the Federal Travel Regulations. Jon E. Penhallurick, 66 Comp.Gen. 166 (1986). Therefore, under the current FTR definition of household goods Mr. Vohs's boat trailer cannot properly be considered household goods which may be shipped or stored at government expense. /2/ Accordingly, Mr. Vohs is liable to the agency for the cost of shipping and storing his boat trailer. /3/

It appears, however, that Mr. Vohs's debt may be subject to consideration for waiver under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584 (Supp. IV 1986). We have recognized that there are some cases where excess shipping charges were incurred as the result of government error, such as where the charges were incurred due to erroneous orders or where it is clear that the charges were incurred by the employee in reliance on erroneous advice from an agency representative on whose advice the employee could be expected to rely. See Paul Rodriguez, 67 Comp.Gen. 589 (1988), and compare Kenneth T. Sands, B-229102, Dec. 5, 1988.

If upon investigation the agency is satisfied that Mr. Vohs relied on erroneous advice and had no particular experience or other reason to question this advice, his debt would be subject to waiver under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584. The agency should review the matter further to determine whether the debt qualifies for waiver and take the appropriate action as prescribed by the waiver standards, 4 C.F.R. Sec. 91.1-93.3 (1989).

/1/ The matter was submitted for decision by Wendy Fark, Authorized Certifying Officer, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

/2/ In 67 Comp.Gen. 230 (1988), we stated that we would not object if the Joint Travel Regulations were amended to include small boats and canoes in the definition of household goods of uniformed service members which can be shipped at government expense. We also indicated that the General Services Administration may wish to consider a similar amendment to the FTR. To date, however, the FTR has not been so amended.

/3/ The agency reported the amount of the debt as $235.61 for shipping and $162.74 for storing the trailer. Apparently these figures were based on the carrier's weight additive of 1,200 pounds for the trailer. appears that the debt also should include the costs for the approximately 250 pounds the trailer actually weighed, which was included in the total weight of the shipment in addition to the weight additive.