B-233736, Apr 15, 1991

B-233736: Apr 15, 1991

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That prohibition does not apply to people who merely are acquainted with each other. Especially where there is an objective demonstration that a business relationship was intended with respect to the rental of lodging. Are nonetheless payable where the member affirms his claims and an investigation is unable to refute them. A member's claims for reimbursement for local TDY mileage between his lodging and his duty site are payable only to the extent they are adequately supported. Where there is a dispute between the claimant and the government as to the actual mileage incurred. We will accept the government's official determination. Per Diem Reimbursement for subsistence expenses was denied because the member's itemized statement of actual expenses always just met or only slightly exceeded (by no more than $.56) the maximum daily amount allowed for the Petersburg-Fort Lee area ($63 at that time).

B-233736, Apr 15, 1991

MILITARY PERSONNEL - Travel - Temporary duty - Lodging - Expenses - Reimbursement DIGEST: 1. While the Joint Federal Travel Regulations prohibit reimbursement of TDY lodging expenses when a member stays with a relative or friend, that prohibition does not apply to people who merely are acquainted with each other, especially where there is an objective demonstration that a business relationship was intended with respect to the rental of lodging. MILITARY PERSONNEL - Travel - Actual subsistence expenses - Fraud - Allegation substantiation - Evidence sufficiency 2. Claims for reimbursement for subsistence expenses which vary little over a 3 month period, while meriting investigation by the concerned agency for possible fraud, are nonetheless payable where the member affirms his claims and an investigation is unable to refute them. MILITARY PERSONNEL - Travel - Commuting expenses - Reimbursement - Eligibility 3. A member's claims for reimbursement for local TDY mileage between his lodging and his duty site are payable only to the extent they are adequately supported. Where there is a dispute between the claimant and the government as to the actual mileage incurred, we will accept the government's official determination.

Subsistence and Mileage Expenses:

An enlisted member of the United States Army requests reconsideration of a settlement by our Claims Group /1/ sustaining the refusal of the United States Army Finance and Accounting Center to pay his claims for subsistence expenses and mileage expenses while on temporary duty (TDY) from January 4, 1987, through April 3, 1987, at Fort Lee, Virginia. sustain that decision in part, and overrule it in part.

Per Diem

Reimbursement for subsistence expenses was denied because the member's itemized statement of actual expenses always just met or only slightly exceeded (by no more than $.56) the maximum daily amount allowed for the Petersburg-Fort Lee area ($63 at that time). There are also suggestions that the member and his landlord from February to April 1987 were acquainted with each other, although the landlord was registered with Fort Lee's housing referral office as a source of non commercial housing.

With respect to housing, reimbursement is denied when a member and his landlord are "friends or relatives." See Joint Federal Travel Regulations, para. U4156-E (Jan. 1, 1987). In this respect, while the record suggests that the member may have been acquainted with his landlord, it does not establish a closer relationship. Moreover, in our view, the landlord's registration with the housing referral office confirms the member's claim of a strictly business relationship between the member and his landlord. In addition, although little day to day variation is seen in the member's per diem claims as they are always at or slightly over the daily per diem maximum for the area and itemized expenses for meals tend to be rounded in $.05, and $.10 increments, the member continues to affirm the accuracy of these expenses. Since the government has failed to uncover any evidence to impeach the member's claims, the inference of dishonesty is not compelling. Where discrepancies are minor or small in dollar amounts, a finding of fraud would not normally be warranted absent convincing evidence to the contrary. Michael L. Smiley, B-226189, Dec. 9, 1988. Thus the record does not support the conclusion that the member's subsistence expenses claims were fraudulent.

Mileage

Reimbursement for mileage was disallowed because, among other things, the member claimed the maximum daily mileage (15 miles) for local travel everyday including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

The record indicates a round trip distance of 7 miles from the member's lodging to his duty site starting on February 2, 1987. Further, there was a requirement, noted in official weekly training schedules for the training beginning on February 2, 1987, for a mandatory "command run" or other physical training (PT) activities starting at 6 a.m. on some days. This required an additional round trip on those days to attend mandatory physical training and then return to lodging for personal hygiene. There is, therefore, adequate evidence to support the member's mileage claims of at least 14 miles on those days from February to April 1987 when mandatory physical training was scheduled on the official training schedule for 6 a.m. These are payable at that mileage if otherwise proper.

The round trip distance for duty during January is less certain. The distance from lodging used by the member in January to the main gate at Fort Lee is 3 miles, but estimates of the distance from the main gate to the duty site are conflicting: 4.5 miles according to the member; 3.75 miles according to a school official who measured that distance at the member's request; and 1 mile according to an official report by the member's deputy commanding officer. We find the maximum daily mileage during duty days in January 1987 to be 8 miles. The member provided no training schedule or other evidence establishing anything other than 1 round trip daily between lodging and duty. Moreover, we must accept the deputy commander's official report of a distance of 1 mile between the January duty site and the gate because there is an irreconcilable dispute on this mileage. See George W. Lovill, B-196465, Apr. 16, 1980; 4 C.F.R. Sec. 31.7. When this distance is added to the estimate of 3 miles from lodging to front gate, a roundtrip of only 8 miles results. That mileage is payable if otherwise proper.

Other mileage claims are unsupported. For example, to the extent that the member relies on it, the mere indication of PT in the late afternoon schedule is an insufficient basis for additional mileage. The member could not have returned to his lodging to change for physical training since there was only a 10 minute break between the member's last class and physical training on these days. In addition, mileage claims for non-duty days are not substantiated and are not therefore payable.

/1/ The United States Army Finance and Accounting Center should pay the member's claims in accordance with this decision.