B-237819, Mar. 11, 1991

B-237819: Mar 11, 1991

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The officer is entitled to the full storage costs available pursuant to the second set of orders. USA: This is in response to an appeal of a Claims Group determination to deny a request by Army LTC Cone S. We find that LTC Underwood in fact was entitled to storage at the government's expense. LTC Underwood was authorized to ship his household goods to Washington but. LTC Underwood originally was authorized temporary storage for 90 days. LTC Underwood learned in November that his unit was being reorganized. Because he was not sure where he ultimately would be assigned. LTC Underwood was ordered to report to Fort Jackson. He again was entitled. Fort Jackson is a relatively short distance from Augusta.

B-237819, Mar. 11, 1991

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Household goods - Temporary storage - Reimbursement - Eligibility

DIGEST

LTC Cone S. Underwood, USA:

This is in response to an appeal of a Claims Group determination to deny a request by Army LTC Cone S. Underwood for waiver of his debt to the United States for the cost of storing his household goods from January 6 to May 15, 1986. We find that LTC Underwood in fact was entitled to storage at the government's expense.

In April 1985, LTC Underwood received orders transferring him from Fort Gordon at Augusta, Georgia, to Washington, D.C., for duty beginning July 1. On June 30, LTC Underwood entered into an agreement to sell his home in Augusta. LTC Underwood was authorized to ship his household goods to Washington but, shortly after arriving there, he learned that his tour in Washington would be brief, and he therefore left his household goods in storage at government expense in Georgia. LTC Underwood originally was authorized temporary storage for 90 days.

LTC Underwood learned in November that his unit was being reorganized. Because he was not sure where he ultimately would be assigned, he requested and received an extension of the storage period to 180 days, until February 23, 1986.

In December 1985, LTC Underwood was ordered to report to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on January 6, 1986. In connection with this transfer, he again was entitled, by regulation, to store the household goods for 90 days, incident to their shipment to Fort Jackson. Fort Jackson is a relatively short distance from Augusta, however, and LTC Underwood decided to stay in Augusta and build a house there instead of moving. Because he had sold his other house in connection with the original move to Washington, LTC Underwood left the household goods in storage in Augusta while the new house was completed.

When LTC Underwood requested delivery of his household goods (when he closed on his new house), he learned that he would be liable for storage charges of $788.19 for the period from January 6 to May 15 because by staying in Augusta he essentially had converted what would have been an interstate move, with authorized storage and transportation, into a local move, for which storage is not authorized.

When LTC Underwood contested his liability for the storage charge, transportation officials at Fort Gordon presented his situation to the Transportation and Doctrine Command, which referred it to the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee. Those groups affirmed LTC Underwood's liability for the storage charge.

LTC Underwood reimbursed the government for the storage charge, and then requested waiver of the debt and refund. Our Claims Group denied waiver on the grounds that no erroneous government payment had been made, which is a prerequisite to the exercise of our statutory waiver authority at 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2774. LTC Underwood has appealed that determination, although he states that he understands that no erroneous payment has been made. LTC Underwood instead contends that he should not be liable for the storage fees because he saved the government almost $8,000 by not moving his household goods to Washington and then to South Carolina.

Initially, we note that the Claims Group's decision is correct regarding waiver under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2774. The statute gives the Comptroller General authority to waive a claim of the government against a person if the claim arose out of an erroneous payment. No erroneous payment occurs when the government pays a carrier for storage of a member's household goods in excess of the member's entitlement and then makes a claim against the member for the excess amount, because the payment merely satisfied the government's contract liability to the carrier. See 67 Comp.Gen. 484 (1988).

We believe LTC Underwood should be reimbursed the $788.19 in storage charges. Acting on the transfer to Washington, D.C., and the storage authorization LTC Underwood sold his house in Augusta, certainly not an unreasonable action. The travel regulations provide that if household goods are still in temporary storage when a member receives further change of station orders after arriving at his new duty station, temporary storage is authorized only until the effective date of the new orders; any subsequent entitlement to storage is determined under the new change of station orders. 1 Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) para. M8100-6, which applied at the time of LTC Underwood's move. /1/ Once LTC Underwood received the December 1989 orders transferring him to Fort Jackson, he was permitted another 90 days of storage while he looked for a new residence to which to have his household goods delivered. In fact, the regulations authorize extension of even that period, for up to 90 more days, while the member awaits completion of a residence under construction. 1 JTR para. M8100-2(b).

We think LTC Underwood was entitled to the storage authorized pursuant to his December 1989 orders notwithstanding that he ultimately had the goods shipped within Augusta. When he received the December orders LTC Underwood simply had no place to which to have the goods delivered in view of the sale of his house in connection with his initial transfer. recognize that the travel regulations do not authorize temporary storage for an intra-city move. 1 JTR para. M8100 1. This provision precludes a member who already has a place of his own to store his household goods from putting them in storage at government expense. We do not think it can be said to apply where the member is in precisely the situation that the regulations that do authorize temporary storage contemplate because he properly gave up his old residence in the city in reasonable reliance on an earlier transfer.

The fact is that had LTC Underwood's stored goods been shipped to Fort Jackson, he would have been entitled to 90 days of storage costs as expenses incident to the shipment, pursuant to his December 1989 orders, while he found a place to have them delivered. If he had been building a new home there, that timeframe probably would have been extended up to 90 more days until the house was completed. We do not view the lack of authority for temporary storage in connection with a local move as designed to penalize a member in LTC Underwood's situation.

/1/ The Joint Federal Travel Regulations superceded the JTR on January 1, 1987. The current provisions that would apply here are substantially the same as those in the JTR.