B-240895, Jul 23, 1991, 70 Comp.Gen. 631

B-240895: Jul 23, 1991

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Residential utility costs are considered the personal expenses of federal employees. An agency may not use appropriated funds to pay for items of personal expense unless there is specific statutory authority. We have allowed exceptions to this rule only where there is clear and convincing evidence that the expenditure that would ordinarily be a personal expense primarily benefits the government. We noted the difficulty of apportioning utilities between those for which the employee is clearly responsible and any added increment attributable to having the workplace in the residence. The apportioning difficulties remain the same regardless of whether the work-at-home program is voluntary or mandatory.

B-240895, Jul 23, 1991, 70 Comp.Gen. 631

Agencies may not reimburse federal employees participating in a mandatory work-at-home program the incremental costs of utilities associated with the residential workplace, because such costs cannot be said to primarily benefit the government. See 68 Comp.Gen. 502 (1989). We find no compelling reason to distinguish between mandatory and voluntary programs.

Utility Costs Under Mandatory Work-at-Home Program:

This responds to a request from the Personnel Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons (Bureau), on whether the Bureau may reimburse an employee for the cost of utilities incurred in connection with a mandatory work-at-home program. The Bureau periodically places employees in "home duty status" pending investigation of alleged misconduct, requiring them to remain at home during normal working hours and perform assigned work.

The Bureau asks whether the mandatory nature of the program distinguishes it, for purposes of reimbursing the employees' utility expenses, from the voluntary work-at-home program that we addressed in our 1989 decision, 68 Comp.Gen. 502. We conclude that it does not.

DISCUSSION

As a general rule, residential utility costs are considered the personal expenses of federal employees, and an agency may not use appropriated funds to pay for items of personal expense unless there is specific statutory authority. See 63 Comp.Gen. 296, 297 (1984). We have allowed exceptions to this rule only where there is clear and convincing evidence that the expenditure that would ordinarily be a personal expense primarily benefits the government. See, e.g., 65 Comp.Gen. 677 (1986).

In our 1989 decision, we found no reasonable basis from which to conclude that the government would primarily receive the benefit of the incremental cost of utilities, such as heating, air conditioning, lighting, and the electricity to operate government-furnished data processing equipment, occasioned by the employee using his residence as his workplace. While we recognized that an employee might incur additional utility expenses, we noted the difficulty of apportioning utilities between those for which the employee is clearly responsible and any added increment attributable to having the workplace in the residence. We further suggested that any additional expense be balanced against potential savings, such as reduced commuting or child care costs, and such fringe benefits as the convenience of working at home.

Clearly, the apportioning difficulties remain the same regardless of whether the work-at-home program is voluntary or mandatory. One might view the balancing of savings and fringe benefits differently, however. While some of the same savings and fringe benefits would inure to the Bureau's employees, their home duty status is not voluntary and, in some cases at least, the employee might rather report to his office place. Nevertheless, as we emphasized in our 1989 decision: "how the balance should be struck, if at all, ... is a legislative judgment," not ours. Comp.Gen. at 506.

For this reason, we conclude that the Bureau may not use appropriated funds to reimburse employees in "home duty status" for incremental utility costs associated with the residential workplace in the absence of legislation authorizing it to do so.