B-240558, Feb 13, 1991, 70 Comp.Gen. 252

B-240558: Feb 13, 1991

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Who was appointed to a Senior Executive Service position from the private sector. Reimbursement of such costs is authorized under 5 U.S.C. Is limited to transportation costs from the appointee's residence at selection to his first duty station. Since the appointee's residence at selection was in the same locality as his first duty station. The cost of transporting household goods from elsewhere to that residence is an excess cost to be borne by the appointee. Who was appointed to a Senior Executive Service position (SES) from the private sector. Because his commuting distance and time to his duty station were only reduced by 4 miles and 5 minutes. Agencies have broad discretion under paragraph 2-1.5b(2) of the Federal Travel Regulations to determine whether short-distance relocations of new SES appointees are incident to their appointment.

B-240558, Feb 13, 1991, 70 Comp.Gen. 252

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Household goods - Shipment - Reimbursement - Senior executive service 1. An individual, who was appointed to a Senior Executive Service position from the private sector, seeks reimbursement for the cost of shipping household goods to his residence near his new duty station prior to and in contemplation of his appointment. Reimbursement of such costs is authorized under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5723 (1988), but is limited to transportation costs from the appointee's residence at selection to his first duty station. Since the appointee's residence at selection was in the same locality as his first duty station, and the one from which he regularly commuted to that duty station, the cost of transporting household goods from elsewhere to that residence is an excess cost to be borne by the appointee. Paragraph 2-1.5f(5) of the Federal Travel Regulations. 2. An individual, who was appointed to a Senior Executive Service position (SES) from the private sector, made a short-distance change of residence 8 months after his appointment and seeks reimbursement for the cost of moving his household goods to his new residence. Because his commuting distance and time to his duty station were only reduced by 4 miles and 5 minutes, the agency doubts that the move qualified as being incident to his appointment. Agencies have broad discretion under paragraph 2-1.5b(2) of the Federal Travel Regulations to determine whether short-distance relocations of new SES appointees are incident to their appointment. Since the agency did not make the required determination that the appointee's short-distance move was incident to his appointment, we conclude that he may not be reimbursed those transportation costs.

Robert E. Diebold - Senior Executive Service Appointee - Household Goods Shipments:

This decision is in response to a request from an Authorized Certifying Officer, Department of Energy (DOE). /1/ It concerns the entitlement of an individual appointed from the private sector to a Senior Executive Service (SES) position to be reimbursed moving expenses. We conclude that, under the facts of the case, he may not be reimbursed.

BACKGROUND

Dr. Robert E. Diebold was an employee of the Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois, a private sector contractor doing business with the DOE. During the period April 1985 to September 1987, Dr. Diebold was on a field assignment for Argonne at the DOE Office of Energy Research in Germantown, Maryland. While there, Dr. Diebold rented a house in Arlington, Virginia, lived there with his wife, and regularly commuted to the Germantown facility from that residence. His household goods at his Arlington residence had been transported there at Argonne's expense in April 1985.

In March 1987, Dr. Diebold was notified that a new SES position as Director for the Superconducting Super Collider Division, Office of Energy Research, was to be created and that he was being considered for the position. He agreed to accept the position if it was offered.

On August 18, 1987, the Office of Personnel Management approved the creation of the SES position. Thereafter, Dr. Diebold accepted an oral offer of the position and on September 4, 1987, accepted a formal offer and executed a service agreement. On September 28, 1987, he formally reported for duty as a DOE employee at the same duty location (Germantown, Maryland) to which he had reported while on field assignment for Argonne.

In June 1987, before the SES position was approved by OPM, Dr. Diebold traveled to Downers Grove, Illinois, where he had lived prior to April 1985, rented a U-haul truck, and moved a number of miscellaneous household items and other personal effects, including a plant collection owned by his wife, to his Arlington residence. The cost of transporting those goods was $758.27.

Following his SES appointment, Dr. Diebold continued to live at his Arlington residence and commute to his duty station in Germantown. In May 1988, he purchased a residence in McLean, Virginia, and moved his household goods there at a cost of $916.11.

Dr. Diebold submitted a claim voucher for the combined transportation expenses ($1,674.38). The DOE, in turn, submitted the claim here, questioning whether the law and the applicable regulations would permit payment of any of the expenses claimed.

OPINION

The law and the regulations authorizing the travel and transportation rights of new appointees to the SES from the private sector are contained in 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5723 (1988) and chapter 2 of the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR). /2/ Section 5723(a) of title 5, United States Code, provides that an agency may pay the travel expenses of a new appointee to the SES and the transportation expenses of his immediate family, household goods and personal effects "from his place of residence at the time of selection ... to his duty station." Section 5723(c) authorizes that reimbursement "whether or not the individual selected has been appointed at the time of travel." /3/

Pre-selection Shipment of Household Goods

The cost of shipment and temporary storage of household goods is authorized under FTR, para. 2-1.5f(3). However, FTR, para. 2-1.5f(5) provides:

"(5) Alternate origin and destination. The limit on ... expenses in the individual case is the cost of direct travel or transportation as allowable between the individual's place of residence at the time of selection or assignment and the official station to which appointed or assigned; however, travel and transportation may be from and/or to other locations if the new appointee ... pays any excess costs involved ... ."

In this context, FTR, para. 2-1.4i defines official station to mean:

"The building or other place where the officer or employee regularly reports for duty ... . With respect to entitlement under these regulations relating to the residence and household goods and personal effects of an employee, official station or post of duty also means the residence or other quarters from which the employee regularly commutes to and from work."

From the record before us, it is clear that Dr. Diebold's residence at the time he was selected for the SES position was the house in Arlington, Virginia, where he and his wife had been living for more than 2 years. was the residence from which he regularly commuted to and from his private sector assignment at the DOE facility in Germantown, Maryland. Since his residence at the time of his selection and his first duty station were in the same locality, Dr. Diebold's costs to transport household goods from Downers Grove, Illinois, to his Arlington residence in June 1987 were excess costs and under the language of FTR, para. 2-1.5f(5), may not be reimbursed.

Post-selection Shipment of Household Goods

Paragraph 2-1.5b(2) of the FTR provides:

"(2) Appointments. Regarding new appointees ... whose place of actual residence at the time of selection for appointment and first duty station are located in the same general local or metropolitan area and who relocate their places of residence as a result of the appointment, the travel and transportation expenses as provided in para. 2-1.5f, shall be authorized only when the agency determines that the relocation of residence was incident to the appointment ... ."

We have consistently held in cases involving short-distance relocations that agencies have broad discretion under applicable statutes and regulations to determine whether an employee's move from one residence to another is incident to a change of official station. 51 Comp.Gen. 187 (1971); Stanley Jeffress Williams, B-184029, Jan. 26, 1976; and David E. Meisner, B-187162, Feb. 9, 1977. Further, if the relocation of the residence does not substantially diminish commuting time and no other circumstances demonstrate that the relocation was incident to a transfer, the agencies must necessarily deny payment of travel and transportation expenses. Williams, supra; Meisner, supra. Similar determinations are required for new appointees under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5723 as well. David L. Crockett, B-191393, May 11, 1978; Pradeep Sinha, B-219209, Apr. 29, 1986.

In the present case, the agency questions whether Dr. Diebold's move from Arlington to McLean was incident to his appointment to the SES. The agency points out that the move did not occur until 8 months after he was appointed, that both residences were in the same area, and that Dr. Diebold's commuting distance and time were only reduced by 4 miles and 5 minutes, respectively.

In the absence of an agency finding that Dr. Diebold's move was incident to his SES appointment and in view of the minimal reduction in commuting time and distance, we conclude that he may not be reimbursed transportation expenses for his move from Arlington to McLean in May 1988.

/1/ Mr. V. Joseph Startari.

/2/ Incorp. by ref. 41 C.F.R. Sec. 101-7.003 (1988).

/3/ FTR, para. 2-1.5f(2). See also, James Schoenberger,