B-233607, Oct 26, 1989, 69 Comp.Gen. 38

B-233607: Oct 26, 1989

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APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Appropriation Availability - Purpose availability - Necessary expenses rule - Awards/honoraria The spouse of an employee was issued invitational travel orders to attend a Departmental Awards Ceremony honoring the employee. 54 Comp.Gen. 1054 (1975) is overruled. Rutledge - Travel Expenses to Attend Awards Ceremony - Spouse of Recipient: This decision is in response to a request from an Authorized Certifying Officer. The question presented is whether Mrs. Was selected to receive an award at a Departmental Honor Awards Ceremony in Washington. The agency disallowed payment on the basis that it was not a "necessary expense. In its report to our Office the agency stated that the travel authorization was erroneously issued.

B-233607, Oct 26, 1989, 69 Comp.Gen. 38

APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Appropriation Availability - Purpose availability - Necessary expenses rule - Awards/honoraria The spouse of an employee was issued invitational travel orders to attend a Departmental Awards Ceremony honoring the employee. Her travel expense claim may be paid. Under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 4503 (1982), each agency head has the discretion to determine the award to be given and the ceremony commensurate with that award and to incur necessary expenses to that end. If the agency determines that the presence of the employee's spouse would further the purposes of the awards program, travel expenses for the spouse may be considered a "necessary expense" under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 503., 54 Comp.Gen. 1054 (1975) is overruled.

Sharon S. Rutledge - Travel Expenses to Attend Awards Ceremony - Spouse of Recipient:

This decision is in response to a request from an Authorized Certifying Officer, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Department of the Interior. The question presented is whether Mrs. Sharon S. Rutledge may be reimbursed travel expenses. We conclude that she may be reimbursed for the following reasons.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Peter A. Rutledge, an employee of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Denver, Colorado, was selected to receive an award at a Departmental Honor Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. The agency issued travel orders to his spouse, Mrs. Sharon S. Rutledge, inviting her to travel with her husband and attend the awards ceremony with him. Those orders provided that she would be reimbursed all necessary travel and transportation expenses.

Following completion of round-trip travel, Mrs. Rutledge submitted her travel voucher in the amount of $536.60. The agency disallowed payment on the basis that it was not a "necessary expense," citing 5 U.S.C. Sec. 4503 (1982) and 54 Comp.Gen. 1054 (1975).

In its report to our Office the agency stated that the travel authorization was erroneously issued, but that Mrs. Rutledge had incurred these expenses in good faith reliance on those travel orders, had performed travel under the reasonable belief that her expenses would be paid, and had no knowledge or reason to know that the travel authorization issued to her was erroneous. In view thereof, the agency has taken the position that her claim is appropriate for submission to Congress as a meritorious claim.

OPINION

Section 4503 of title 5, United States Code (1982), provides authority for an agency head to pay cash awards to, and "incur necessary expense" for the honorary recognition of employees who meet the stated statutory criteria for such awards.

In 54 Comp.Gen. 1054, supra, we interpreted the phrase "incur necessary expense" in 5 U.S.C. Sec. 4503 to limit expenses to those which were "a direct and essential expense of the award." Id. at 1055. We concluded that since the presence of family members was not directly related to the award or its presentation, expenses of their travel may not be reimbursed as such a "direct and essential expense."

We have reevaluated 54 Comp.Gen. 1054 in light of well-established principles which deal more generally with the "necessary expense" concept. In applying the basic statutory rule (31 U.S.C. Sec. 1301(a)) that appropriated funds may be used only for the purposes for which they are appropriated, we have consistently held that an expenditure "is permissible if it is reasonably necessary in carrying out an authorized function or will contribute materially to the effective accomplishment of that function, and if it is not otherwise prohibited by law." Prize Drawing at Army Recruiting Events, B-230062, Dec. 22, 1988, quoting from 66 Comp.Gen. 356 (1987). Likewise, we observed in Implementation of Army Safety Program, B-223608, Dec. 19, 1988:

"... Where a given expenditure is neither specifically provided for nor prohibited, the question is whether it bears a reasonable relationship to fulfilling an authorized purpose or function of the agency. ... This, in the first instance, is a matter of agency discretion. ... The question is whether the expenditure falls within the agency's legitimate range of discretion, or whether its relationship to an authorized purpose or function is so attenuated as to take it beyond that range."

We recently had occasion to consider the phrase "necessary expense" in the specific context of agency discretion under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 4503 in Refreshments at Awards Ceremony, 65 Comp.Gen. 738 (1986). While we recognized the general rule that appropriated funds may not be used to provide free food to government employees, we pointed out that the question of the propriety of such expenditures is not to be treated in a vacuum. Their propriety must be measured relative to the specific appropriation to be charged, or the specific program to be served. analyzed the appropriateness of expenditures for awards ceremonies in that context and concluded that should the agency determine that a reception with refreshments would materially enhance the awards ceremony, the cost of those refreshments may be considered a "necessary expense," for the purposes of 5 U.S.C. Sec. 4503. Id. at 740.

In light of the above decisions, we believe that to equate the phrase "necessary expense" with "a direct and essential expense of the award," as we did in 54 Comp.Gen. 1054, is too restrictive and not consistent with the discretion vested in the agency head to pay a cash award and make the ceremony commensurate with the award to be given. Therefore, if the head of an agency determines that it would further the purposes of the awards program for the spouse of an award recipient to be present at the award ceremony, then his or her travel expense may be considered a "necessary expense" for the purposes of 5 U.S.C. Sec. 4503. Since we are overruling 54 Comp.Gen. 1054, supra, we are advising the Office of Personnel Management of this decision and inviting that office to consider issuing regulations to cover this subject.

Accordingly, 54 Comp.Gen. 1054, supra, will no longer be followed and Mrs. Rutledge's travel voucher may be paid.