B-239454, B-239450, Mar 26, 1991

B-239450,B-239454: Mar 26, 1991

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An accountable officer's account is settled by operation of law and the officer is no longer liable for any deficiency in the account. That diligent collection efforts are being made. The settlement of an account is conclusive on the Comptroller General at that time. We consider the Comptroller General to have "received" the account at the time that the agency's accounts are substantially complete for audit purposes. When the various documents supporting the applicable statement of accountability are available to the agency and GAO for audit. If the loss is due to a duplicate payment. As is the case here. The 3-year period begins when the agency is notified of the loss. Hickam's accounts have been settled by operation of law.

B-239454, B-239450, Mar 26, 1991

APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Liability - Statutes of limitation - Effective dates - Illegal/improper payments APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Disbursing officers - Illegal/improper payments - Liability - restrictions - Statutes of limitation

DIGEST

Gerald Murphy: Fiscal Assistant Secretary Department of the Treasury Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Mr. Murphy:

This responds to your requests, dated April 23, 1990, that we relieve Gordon P. Hickam, former Director of the Austin Regional Financial Center, and current Director of the Chicago Regional Financial Center, Department of the Treasury, from liability for two improper payments of $797.34 and $438. For the reasons stated below, we conclude that Mr. Hickam's liability has been settled by operation of law in both instances because the applicable statute of limitations has expired.

The improper payments resulted from the issuance of duplicate checks. August 27, 1986, the Austin Financial Center inadvertently printed two checks made payable to Kevin D. Lape, each for $797.34. The Financial Center did not detect the error until after Mr. Lape had cashed both checks. On July 13, 1987, the Chicago Financial Center printed two checks payable to Angela S. Fultz, both for $438. Ms. Fultz cashed both checks before the Financial Center discovered the error. The Financial Center has not been successful in its efforts to collect the overpayments.

Under 31 U.S.C. Sec. 3527(c), we may relieve a supervisory disbursing official, such as Mr. Hickam, upon a showing that he maintained an adequate system of procedures and controls to avoid the type of error which resulted in the improper payments at issue, and also, that diligent collection efforts are being made. See, e.g., B-227436, July 2, 1987. However, our authority to grant relief expires "3 years after the date the Comptroller General receives the account." 31 U.S.C. Sec. 3526(c). The settlement of an account is conclusive on the Comptroller General at that time. Id.

We consider the Comptroller General to have "received" the account at the time that the agency's accounts are substantially complete for audit purposes, i.e., when the various documents supporting the applicable statement of accountability are available to the agency and GAO for audit. If the loss is due to a duplicate payment, as is the case here, the 3-year period begins when the agency is notified of the loss. GAO, Policy and Procedures Manual for the Guidance of Federal Agencies, tit. 7, Sec. 8.7 (Feb. 12, 1990). The Treasury became aware of the overpayment to Mr. Lape on July 17, 1987, and the overpayment to Ms. Fultz on October 27, 1987; consequently, the 3-year limitation periods expired in July 1990 and October 1990. Thus, Mr. Hickam's accounts have been settled by operation of law, and he is not responsible for the overpayments.