B-234964, Oct 10, 1989

B-234964: Oct 10, 1989

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Is eligible for reimbursement of such expenses since they were incurred after the agency exhibited a clear intention to transfer the employee. Silva - Transportation and Storage of Household Goods: This is in response to a request from an authorized certifying officer /1/ for an advance decision regarding the propriety of reimbursing an employee for the cost of transportation and storage of household goods which began before the issuance of official transfer orders. We hold that the employee is eligible for reimbursement since the costs were incurred after the agency made clear its intention to transfer her. Was offered and accepted a position as an Equal Employment Manager in the Bureau's Office of Equal Opportunity in Washington.

B-234964, Oct 10, 1989

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Household goods - Shipment - Reimbursement - Eligibility CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Household goods - Temporary storage - Reimbursement - Eligibility DIGEST: An employee who incurred expenses for temporary storage and transportation of household goods prior to issuance of a travel authorization, but after written confirmation of selection to a new position at a new duty station, is eligible for reimbursement of such expenses since they were incurred after the agency exhibited a clear intention to transfer the employee. Reimbursement must be limited to a maximum of 180 days for temporary storage and the constructive cost of shipping the goods in one shipment by the most economical route from the old to the new duty station. However, reimbursement for the shipment and storage of a sleep sofa acquired after temporary storage of household goods began may not be allowed.

Rita C. Silva - Transportation and Storage of Household Goods:

This is in response to a request from an authorized certifying officer /1/ for an advance decision regarding the propriety of reimbursing an employee for the cost of transportation and storage of household goods which began before the issuance of official transfer orders. We hold that the employee is eligible for reimbursement since the costs were incurred after the agency made clear its intention to transfer her. However, reimbursement for temporary storage must be limited to 90 days, plus up to an additional 90 days if approved by the agency, and reimbursement for transportation must be limited to the constructive cost of shipping the goods in one shipment by the most economical route from the employee's old duty station to the new duty station. Furthermore, reimbursement for the shipment and storage of a sleep sofa acquired after temporary storage of household goods began may not be allowed.

BACKGROUND

On October 15, 1987, Ms. Rita C. Silva, an employee of the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City, Utah, was offered and accepted a position as an Equal Employment Manager in the Bureau's Office of Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C. The offer was made over the telephone to Ms. Silva. A few days later, on October 22, l987, the Bureau's Chief of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., confirmed Ms. Silva's selection to the new position in writing to the Regional Director of the Bureau's Salt Lake City office.

Because the Washington, D.C. office was reorganizing and planning to move its operations in the near future to Denver, Colorado, Ms. Silva was detailed to Washington prior to a permanent transfer to Denver. The intent of the Bureau was to move Ms. Silva to Denver after her detail to Washington and the reorganization were completed.

On December 22, l987, prior to leaving for Washington, Ms. Silva packed her household goods and put them in commercial storage in Salt Lake City, apparently in anticipation of her transfer which she expected to take place upon completion of the detail. Her detail in Washington actually began on January 8, l988, and ended on February 20, l988. After completion of her detail, she was returned for duty in Salt Lake City instead of being directly transferred to Denver apparently because the reorganization had not yet been completed. After she returned, she left her household goods in storage and purchased a sleep sofa to use in Salt Lake City until her transfer to Denver. On April 18, Ms. Silva signed an employment agreement for her transfer from Salt Lake City to Denver and, a few days later, rented a truck and on April 22 moved her household goods out of storage to her son's home in Cimarron, Colorado, where they were again put in storage.

Ms. Silva was issued a travel authorization for her transfer on May 18, l988, with a reporting date in Denver of June 6. It appears that at about the time of her transfer she put her sleep sofa in storage for a month and also had it shipped to Denver. On July 8, after purchasing a permanent residence, she had her household goods moved to her permanent residence.

Ms. Silva claims full reimbursement for the cost of transportation and storage of her household goods as detailed above. The Bureau believes that transportation and storage costs which were incurred over a 6-month period in two states are not allowable. The Bureau believes that Ms. Silva is entitled to only one pick-up and delivery of household goods with a maximum of 90 days storage. In addition, the Bureau believes that expenses in connection with the storage and transportation of household goods are not allowable incident to temporary duty assignments and that an employee may not incur expenses for a relocation until after transfer orders by travel authorization are received.

Ms. Silva contends that, because of the uncertainty and delay in the time of her transfer due to the reorganization of offices from Washington, D.C. to Denver, she should be reimbursed for all transportation and storage expenses incurred starting in December l987.

OPINION

Reimbursement for the cost of transportation and storage of household goods in connection with the transfer of government employees is governed by 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5724(a) (1982) and the implementing regulations contained in chapter 2, part 8, of the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR), incorp. ref., 41 C.F.R. Sec. 101-7.003 (1988).

When the appropriate agency official authorizes or approves a change of an employee's official station, transportation expenses as prescribed in the FTR are payable. FTR, para. 2-1.3. Travel orders are generally recognized as being the authorizing document for reimbursement of relocation expenses and an employee cannot be assured that he or she will be reimbursed for relocation expenses unless he or she has received a travel order. Therefore, an employee ordinarily should not incur expenses for relocation until after receipt of transfer orders. See 54 Comp.Gen. 993 (1975). However, we have held that where an employee incurs expenses for the transportation and storage of household goods prior to and in anticipation of a transfer, these expenses may be reimbursed if the travel order subsequently issued includes authorization for the expenses on the basis of a previously existing administrative intention to transfer the employee clearly evident at the time the expenses were incurred. What constitutes a clear intention to transfer an employee depends on the circumstances of each case. See Stanley N. Hirsch, B-187045, Aug. 3, l977.

For example, we have held that verbal notification of selection for a position to an employee constitutes a clear administrative intention to transfer the employee even though the transfer was contingent on higher approval. See James H. Hogan, B-191912, Apr. 5, l979. In addition, we have held that an employee who receives written notification of an intention to transfer him to a new position, pending approval of the new position, could be reimbursed the cost of storing and moving his household goods when these expenses were incurred prior to the official approval of the transfer and prior to issuance of travel orders. See Stanley N. Hirsch, B-187045, supra.

Ms. Silva incurred expenses only after she had been offered and had accepted the position over the telephone and after the Director of Personnel in the Washington, D.C. office confirmed the offer in writing to the Regional Director of the Salt Lake City office. Based on the decisions cited above, we find that these actions clearly represent an administrative intention to transfer Ms. Silva. Therefore, Ms. Silva is eligible for reimbursement of the costs of transportation and storage of her household goods incurred after written confirmation of her selection to the new position.

With regard to the claim for full reimbursement of temporary storage in this case, FTR, para. 2-8.2c (Supp. 4, Aug. 23, 1982) provides that the time allowable for temporary storage in connection with a transfer shall generally not exceed a period of 90 days. However, the regulations provide that, upon an employee's written request, the initial 90-day period may be extended an additional period not to exceed 90 days under certain conditions if approved by the agency. For example, FTR, para. 2- 8.2c provides that an additional storage period may be justified by an intervening temporary duty or long-term training assignment, or other circumstances beyond the control of the employee. We have held, however, that an agency has no authority to allow additional time for temporary storage of household goods in excess of the 180-day period authorized by the FTR. See Angelo N. Grandelli, B-226937.2, Dec. 13, l988.

In this case, Ms. Silva stored her household goods from December 22, l987 until July 8, l988, a period of 200 days. As provided in the FTR, Ms. Silva is entitled to up to 90 days storage incident to her transfer and may submit a written request to her agency for approval of up to an additional 90 days based on the unusual circumstances of her transfer. /2/ However, there is no authority to grant approval of storage in excess of the maximum 180-day period.

With regard to the claim for full reimbursement of the cost of transportation of household goods in this case, FTR, para. 2-8.2d provides that the cost of transportation of household goods may be paid whether the shipment originates at the employee's last official station or place of residence or at some other point, or if part of the shipment originates at the last official station and the remainder at one or more points. addition, FTR, para. 2-8.2d provides that these expenses are allowable whether the point of destination is the new official station or some other point selected by the employee, or if the destination for part of the property is the new official station and the remainder is shipped to one or more other points. The only restriction with regard to origin or destination of the shipment of household goods in FTR, para. 2-8.2d is that the total amount which may be reimbursed by the government shall not exceed the cost of transporting the property in one lot by the most economical route from the last official station of the employee to the new official station.

Thus, we have allowed reimbursement of the cost of transportation of household goods shipped in more than one lot limited to the cost of transporting the goods in one lot. See B-166962, June 27, l969. addition, we have allowed reimbursement when shipments originated at locations other than the old duty station and when the destination was other than the new duty station. See Garland F. Davis, B-226494, Nov. 7, 1988, 68 Comp.Gen. ***; Clarence G. Menke, B-180748, Oct. 3, l974. Therefore, the fact that Ms. Silva moved her household goods in three separate shipments, and from different origins and to different destinations, does not adversely affect her entitlement to reimbursement. However, the Bureau must limit reimbursement to Ms. Silva to the cost of transporting her household goods in one lot by the most economical route from Salt Lake City to Denver.

Furthermore, the Bureau may not reimburse Ms. Silva for shipping or storing the sleep sofa she acquired after storing her household goods in Salt Lake City. FTR, para. 2-1.4h defines "household goods" as property which belongs to an employee at the time shipment or storage begins. Since Ms. Silva purchased the sleep sofa after storage of her goods began, it cannot be considered part of her household goods which may be shipped or stored at government expense.

Accordingly, we conclude that Ms. Silva is eligible for reimbursement of the costs of transporting and storing her household goods, subject to the limitations discussed above, since she incurred these expenses after a clear administrative intention to transfer her was made known to her.

/1/ Ms. Sandra Inglefield, Authorized Certifying Officer, United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Denver Colorado.

/2/ The Bureau has already reimbursed Ms. Silva for the expenses incurred in storing her household goods in Salt Lake City. Based on the facts in this case, we do not question the necessity for incurring storage expenses incident to Ms. Silva's transfer but prior to her receipt of transfer orders. Cf. 29 Comp.Gen. 232 (1949), where the facts were not so fully explained.