B-241915, Apr 17, 1991, 70 Comp.Gen. 429

B-241915: Apr 17, 1991

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Expenses necessarily incurred to relocate it before and after shipment are classified as miscellaneous expenses and reimbursable only through payment of a miscellaneous expense allowance under chapter 2. Her claim is denied. Madison - Relocation of a Mobile Home - Expense Reimbursement Limitation: This decision is in response to a request from an Authorized Certifying Officer. Was transferred from Grants Pass. She was authorized to transport her mobile home in lieu of transportation and temporary storage of household goods. She was also authorized temporary quarters subsistence expense reimbursement. Payment was approved through the NFC's automated system and since she had already received a $1.

B-241915, Apr 17, 1991, 70 Comp.Gen. 429

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Relocation - Mobile homes - Shipment - Actual expenses - Reimbursement A transferred employee moved her mobile home to her new duty station and claims entitlement to expenses incurred to prepare the mobile home for transport and to set it up at the new duty station. Chapter 2, part 7 of the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR), authorizes reimbursement of costs directly related to actual shipment of a mobile home. Expenses necessarily incurred to relocate it before and after shipment are classified as miscellaneous expenses and reimbursable only through payment of a miscellaneous expense allowance under chapter 2, part 3 of the FTR. John Schilling, 66 Comp.Gen. 480 (1987). Since she has been paid the maximum amount allowable under FTR, para. 2-3.3b, her claim is denied.

Marie K. Madison - Relocation of a Mobile Home - Expense Reimbursement Limitation:

This decision is in response to a request from an Authorized Certifying Officer, National Finance Center (NFC), U.S. Department of Agriculture, /1/ concerning the entitlement of an employee to be reimbursed additional expenses associated with the transportation of a mobile home incident to a permanent change of station. We conclude that the employee has received the maximum reimbursement authorized.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Marie K. Madison, an employee of the Forest Service, was transferred from Grants Pass, Oregon, to Gasquet, California, in March 1987. She was authorized to transport her mobile home in lieu of transportation and temporary storage of household goods. She was also authorized temporary quarters subsistence expense reimbursement, a miscellaneous expense allowance, and reimbursement for personal travel by privately owned vehicle.

Following transfer, Ms. Madison submitted a travel voucher claiming expenses totaling $2,133.50. Payment was approved through the NFC's automated system and since she had already received a $1,715 travel advance, she was paid an additional $418.50. On review by the NFC's Travel Audit Section in April 1987, Ms. Madison's relocation expense entitlement was reduced to $903.03. /2/ The remainder ($1,230.47-- representing the other expenses incurred which were ancillary to the actual transportation of the mobile home) was disallowed and reinstated to Ms. Madison's travel advance account as a debt due the United States. Ms. Madison has since repaid that amount.

Ms. Madison contends that those additional expenses should be reimbursed because they were incurred to prepare the mobile home for transport and to set it up and reconnect the utilities at her new duty station. Additionally, she contends she was given erroneous information regarding her entitlements. She apparently had the opportunity to sell the mobile home because she claims that she would have sold it rather than move it, had she been properly advised that the extra expenses would not be reimbursed.

The Forest Service confirms that Ms. Madison was apparently given inaccurate information at the time. However, it has suggested that our later decision, John Schilling, 66 Comp.Gen. 480 (1987), which overruled Katherine I. Tang, 65 Comp.Gen. 749 (1986), in part, supports payment of the expenses which were disallowed. The NFC, in turn, believes Ms. Madison has received maximum reimbursement. However, the NFC is mindful of the fact that she received inaccurate information and suggests the possibility that this Office might find that her claim warrants consideration as a meritorious claim. In the absence of such a finding, the NFC asks whether Ms. Madison has any other recourse available to her.

OPINION

Subsection 5724(b) of title 5, United States Code, provides that under regulations a transferred employee may transport a mobile home from the old duty station to the new duty station at government expense. addition, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5724a(b) authorizes payment of a miscellaneous expense allowance in an amount not to exceed 1 week's basic pay in the case of an employee without immediate family, or 2 weeks' basic pay in the case of an employee with an immediate family, but in no event may the payment exceed the maximum pay rate of a grade GS-13 employee.

The regulations governing these reimbursements during the period in question are contained in parts 3 and 7 of chapter 2, Federal Travel Regulations (FTR). /3/ Paragraph 2-7.3a(3) of the FTR states that the reimbursable costs of transporting a mobile home "shall not include the costs of preparing mobile homes for movement, maintenance, repairs ... nor charges designated in the tariffs as special services.'" In this connection, paragraph 2-3.1b of the FTR, includes for miscellaneous expense allowance purposes, the cost of (1) disconnecting and connecting appliances, equipment and utilities and (2) the unblocking and blocking and related expenses in connection with relocating a mobile home.

Thus, all expenses ancillary to the actual movement of a mobile home come wholly under these provisions of the FTR, if they are to be reimbursed. However, FTR, para. 2-3.3b carries forward the statutory limitation that the maximum miscellaneous expense allowance payable in any one case is 1 week's basic pay for an employee without immediate family or 2 weeks' basic pay with immediate family. Therefore, based on those provisions, Ms. Madison was correctly reimbursed $404 for the actual transportation of her mobile home. Although she claimed $1,552.47 as expenses ancillary to that transportation, since at the time of her transfer she was a grade GS- 5, step 5, without immediate family, her miscellaneous expense allowance was properly limited to $322.

In that regard, our decision John Schilling, 66 Comp.Gen. 480, supra, does not support payment of any of the amount disallowed Ms. Madison for those ancillary expenses. The ruling in that case specifically supports the adjusted settlement by the NFC as described above. The issue raised by the Forest Service seems to involve a misunderstanding of the additional question raised and discussed in Schilling. That discussion concerned the issue of apparent inequitable treatment of transferring civilian employees for reimbursement of expenses of mobile home relocations versus those reimbursements available to military members in the same circumstances, since those authorized to civilian employees were significantly less.

We analyzed the legislative history of 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5724(b) in Schilling and found that the purpose for which the law was enacted was sufficiently broad to permit expansion of civilian employee entitlements to approximate those available to military members. We stated therein that the term "transportation" as used in 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5724(b) "may properly be applied to cover the necessary costs of preparing a mobile home for shipment, as well as the costs of installing the home at its new site." Schilling, supra, at page 484. Having previously stated in Schilling that the FTR provisions which limited this entitlement for civilian employees have the force and effect of law, we concluded that the FTR would have to be amended to permit payment of these additional expenses and recommended to the Administrator of General Services that the regulations be so amended. Notwithstanding that recommendation, neither part 7 of chapter 2 of the FTR (1981 edition), nor part 302-7 of the FTR (1989 edition, May 10, 1989) have been amended to permit payment of those additional expenses.

As to the question of other possible recourses available to Ms. Madison, we note that following full payment to her it was determined that the payment was erroneous and recoupment action taken. In view of the amount recovered from Ms. Madison ($1,230.47), if the Forest Service believes that the erroneous payment qualifies for waiver under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584 (1988), it may submit a report here on its findings and recommendations. See 4 C.F.R. Part 92 (1991).

/1/ Jeanne DiGange, Reference: FSD-1 WMD.

/2/ Temporary quarters subsistence expense - $160.22, mileage - $16.81, miscellaneous expense allowance - $322, and transportation of Ms. Madison's mobile home - $404.

/3/ Supp. 1, Sept. 28, 1981, and Supp. 4, Aug. 23, 1982, incorp. ref., 41 C.F.R. Sec. 101-7.003 (1987).