B-234785, Oct 6, 1989, 89-2 CPD ***

B-234785: Oct 6, 1989

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The travel agency may not recover the amount it paid the employee for an unused portion of her ticket since that payment was retained by the employee and did not benefit the government. Travelmasters - Quantum Meruit Claim: This decision is in response to a request by an authorized certifying officer of the United States Department of the Interior. Was authorized to attend a training workshop at a junior college in Lawrence. Wilson informed an employee of Travelmasters that she was unsure of the procedure for obtaining a ticket for official travel. Wilson's supervisor in Teec Nos Pos and was told to bill the costs of the ticket to the junior college sponsoring the training workshop. BIA believes that the amount payable to Travelmasters is $218.

B-234785, Oct 6, 1989, 89-2 CPD ***

PROCUREMENT - Payment Discharge - Unauthorized contracts - Quantum meruit/valebant doctrine DIGEST: A travel agency provided an employee with an airline ticket for travel to a training course, based on erroneous advice from the employee's supervisor that the costs of the ticket could be billed to the training sponsor. The travel agency may be paid for the costs of the employee's air travel under the quantum meruit theory, since it incurred the costs in good faith and the government benefited from the employee's travel. The travel agency may not recover the amount it paid the employee for an unused portion of her ticket since that payment was retained by the employee and did not benefit the government.

Travelmasters - Quantum Meruit Claim:

This decision is in response to a request by an authorized certifying officer of the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), as to whether BIA may pay Travelmasters travel agency for the cost of airline tickets issued to Ms. Eloise Wilson, a former BIA employee. As explained below, we conclude that Travelmasters may be paid $218 based on the theory of quantum meruit.

BACKGROUND

In June 1986, Ms. Wilson, then an employee of the BIA in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, was authorized to attend a training workshop at a junior college in Lawrence, Kansas. Instead of obtaining her airline ticket through BIA under a government transportation request, Ms. Wilson went to the offices of Travelmasters where she inquired about air travel to her training site. When Ms. Wilson informed an employee of Travelmasters that she was unsure of the procedure for obtaining a ticket for official travel, the employee telephoned Ms. Wilson's supervisor in Teec Nos Pos and was told to bill the costs of the ticket to the junior college sponsoring the training workshop.

Travelmasters, relying on the information provided by Ms. Wilson's supervisor, issued her a round-trip airline ticket at a cost of $293. July 1986, after Ms. Wilson returned from her trip, she presented Travelmasters with an unused portion of the ticket covering a leg of the travel she apparently performed using a privately owned vehicle. Travelmasters paid her $75, the value of the unused portion of the ticket.

Ms. Wilson did not claim reimbursement for the ticket expenses on her travel voucher, nor did she surrender the $75 refund to the government. In the spring of 1987, Travelmasters sent the junior college a bill for Ms. Wilson's airfare. The junior college forwarded the invoice to the BIA, which refused payment.

The BIA now asks whether it may pay Travelmasters' claim for the costs of Ms. Wilson's airfare under the principle of quantum meruit, discussed below. BIA believes that the amount payable to Travelmasters is $218, representing the cost the government would have incurred for the air travel actually performed by Ms. Wilson the $293 cost of the round-trip ticket, less the $75 paid to her for the unused portion of the ticket.

DISCUSSION

There is no legal obligation on the part of the government to pay the costs of the airfare incurred by Travelmasters at Ms. Wilson's request, since it is well settled that the United States cannot be bound by the unauthorized acts of its employees. See Federal Crop Insurance Corp. v. Merrill, 332 U.S. 380 (1947). However, under GAO's claims settlement authority (31 U.S.C. Sec. 3702), the Comptroller General may authorize payment of unenforceable claims against the government on a quantum meruit basis.

Under the theory of quantum meruit, an individual or firm may be paid for the reasonable value of services provided in good faith to the government as long as the government benefited from the services and could have paid for them if proper procedures had been used. See Hocking International Chemical Corporation, 66 Comp.Gen. 351 (1987); Dan Barclay, 64 Comp.Gen. 612 (1985). The amount which may be recovered under the quantum meruit theory is limited to the amount of the benefit actually received by the government. See 66 Comp.Gen. 351, cited above.

In this case, Travelmasters may be paid for the costs of Ms. Wilson's airfare under the theory of quantum meruit. Travelmasters paid for the airfare in good faith, relying on the advice of Ms. Wilson's supervisor, and the government received the benefit of Ms. Wilson's travel to attend the training workshop. However, the amount payable to Travelmasters is limited to the benefit actually received by the government, which, as BIA has noted, is the $218 in air travel costs the government would have paid had Ms. Wilson arranged for her travel using proper procedures. Travelmasters must collect from Ms. Wilson the additional amount of $75 which it had paid to her for the unused portion of her airfare.

Accordingly, Travelmasters may be paid the amount of $218.