B-231140, Oct 27,1988

B-231140: Oct 27, 1988

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A federal employee who was transferred from Washington. Employees are personally responsible for the excess transportation costs. The fact that the employee in this case may not have been aware that she would be liable for the excess costs does not serve to increase her entitlement. 2. A long-standing practice of the government in arranging transportation of transferred federal employees' household goods is for the employing agency to contract with commercial carriers using government bills of lading. Therefore are not subject to consideration under the waiver statute. While there are some limited exceptions where the excess charges resulted from government error. Where no such error is shown an employee's debt resulting from extra charges incurred for the transportation of her household goods in two separate shipments cannot be considered for waiver.

B-231140, Oct 27,1988

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Household goods - Weight restrictions - Liability - Waiver DIGEST: 1. A federal employee who was transferred from Washington, D.C., to San Diego, California, had her household goods transported in two separate shipments. Under the Federal Travel Regulations the total amount allowable by the government cannot exceed the cost of a one-lot shipment, and employees are personally responsible for the excess transportation costs. The fact that the employee in this case may not have been aware that she would be liable for the excess costs does not serve to increase her entitlement. 2. A long-standing practice of the government in arranging transportation of transferred federal employees' household goods is for the employing agency to contract with commercial carriers using government bills of lading. Upon completion of the shipment the agency pays the carrier and collects any excess charges from the employee for exceeding the authorized weight allowance or for extra services. Employees' resulting debts generally do not arise out of "erroneous" payments, and therefore are not subject to consideration under the waiver statute, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584. While there are some limited exceptions where the excess charges resulted from government error, such as erroneous orders, where no such error is shown an employee's debt resulting from extra charges incurred for the transportation of her household goods in two separate shipments cannot be considered for waiver.

Kathleen A. Doyle - Tansportation of Household Goods - Waiver of Excess Cost:

Ms. Kathleen A. Doyle, a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), questions her liability to pay charges assessed against her for household goods transportation services incident to her transfer from Washington, D.C., to San Diego, California, in 1986. /1/ We find that she is obligated to pay the amount charged and that her debt is not subject to consideration under the waiver statute.

BACKGROUND

The FBI transferred Ms. Doyle from Washington to San Diego by orders dated October 1, 1986. She arranged to have her household goods transported to California by a commercial firm under a government bill of lading (GBL). When the movers initially went to her residence on October 3, 1986, they picked up all the furniture and household effects in her living quarters, but they did not pick up a number of boxes of personal property located in a separate storage area in the apartment complex where she resided. It appears that Ms. Doyle was on a temporary duty assignment at Quantico, Virginia, at the time, and she was consequently not present to oversee the pickup of her property personally. The record presented fails to disclose why she was unable to arrange to have the boxes picked up on October 3 with the rest of her property, other than her statement that there was "some confusion" resulting from her not being present.

Six weeks later on November 14, 1986, Ms. Doyle arranged to have the boxes in the storage area transported to San Diego by the same movers. Although the total weight of her household goods did not exceed the authorized limit of 18,000 pounds, she incurred a charge of $577.39 because the household goods were transported as two shipments under two separate GBLs.

Ms. Doyle suggests that she should not be held liable in the circumstances. She explains that when she discovered the movers had not taken all of her belongings from her old residence, she called them and was advised that they would transport the boxes if she brought the boxes in to them, however they did not advise her that she might incur extra costs. She took the extra boxes to the movers with no expectation that she would incur personal expense in the arrangement. The agency Transportation Management Office indicates that she took this action on her own without consulting with them, so they had no opportunity to advise her of possible excess costs before the second shipment was begun. She questions the basis of her liability in these circumstances. She also suggests that even if she is technically liable, the charge against her should be waived.

ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION

Section 5724 of title 5, United States Code, provides that under regulations prescribed by the President an agency shall pay from government funds the travel and transportation expenses of transferred employees, including the expenses of packing, transporting, and unpacking their household goods and personal effects not in excess of 18,000 pounds net weight.

Implementing regulations contained in paragraph 2-8.2d of the Federal Travel Regulations, incorp. by ref., 41 C.F.R. Sec. 101-7.003, provide that:

"Cost of transportation of household goods may be paid by the Government whether the shipment originates at the employee's last official station or place of residence or at some other point. ... However, the total amount which may be paid or reimbursed by the Government shall not exceed the cost of transporting the property in one lot by the most economical route. ..."

This limitation imposed by the Federal Travel Regulations has the force and effect of law, and regardless of the circumstances involved the employee's entitlement is limited to the cost of a shipment in one lot. See, e.g., William J. Feaser, B-189968, Mar. 31, 1978; and 29 Comp.Gen. 104 (1949). The fact that an employee was misadvised or provided with inadequate guidance does not serve to increase the employee's entitlements. Dr. Robert S. Morton, B-197635, June 6, 1980. Hence, in this case Ms. Doyle is liable for the excess transportation charges.

Concerning Ms. Doyle's request for a grant of waiver of the debt, the waiver statute (5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584) provides that a claim against a federal employee arising out of an "erroneous" payment of pay or allowances may be waived if collection "would be against equity and good conscience and not in the best interests of the United States," and there is no indication that the employee was at fault in the matter. The statute has been amended to include debts arising out of erroneous payments made on or after December 28, 1985, of travel and transportation allowances. Public Law 99-224 (Dec. 28, 1985), 99 Stat. 1741.

It is a long-standing practice of the government in arranging transportation of employees' household goods for the employing agency to contract with commercial carriers using GBLs. Upon completion of the shipment the government pays the carrier and collects any excess charges from the employee for exceeding the authorized weight allowance or for extra services. Employees' resulting debts do not arise out of "erroneous" payments, and therefore are not subject to consideration for waiver under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584. See Transportation Debt Waivers, B-229337, June 21, 1988, 67 Comp.Gen. ***. We have recognized that there may be some cases where the excess charges were incurred as the result of government error, such as where the charges were incurred on the basis of erroneous orders, and the resulting debts may be considered to have arisen out of erroneous payments within the meaning of the waiver statute. B-229337, supra. In Ms. Doyle's case, however, no such government error has been shown. Accordingly, her debt may not be considered for waiver.

/1/ This action is in response to a request for a decision received from Mr. William E. Burrows, Jr., FBI Certifying Officer, Washington, D.C.