B-242082, Jun 17, 1991

B-242082: Jun 17, 1991

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APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Appropriation Availability - Purpose availability - Specific purpose restrictions - Personal expenses/furnishings CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Compensation - Personal expenses/furnishings - Reimbursement DIGEST: The Defense Logistics Agency may properly reimburse employees who work in industrial environments where heavy objects are moved and lifted using various types of equipment for purchases of safety shoes where. The employees' supervisors verify that safety shoes are needed and authorize the employees to buy them prior to the actual purchase by the employees. Reimbursement is proper. The general requirement is that personal protective equipment for extremities must be provided.

B-242082, Jun 17, 1991

APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Appropriation Availability - Purpose availability - Specific purpose restrictions - Personal expenses/furnishings CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Compensation - Personal expenses/furnishings - Reimbursement DIGEST: The Defense Logistics Agency may properly reimburse employees who work in industrial environments where heavy objects are moved and lifted using various types of equipment for purchases of safety shoes where, in accordance with agency regulations, the employees' supervisors verify that safety shoes are needed and authorize the employees to buy them prior to the actual purchase by the employees.

Defense Logistics Agency - Purchase of Safety Shoes:

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) asks whether it may properly reimburse its employees for purchases of safety shoes. In particular, DLA questions whether such purchases run afoul of the "voluntary creditor" rule articulated by our Office in a number of cases.

In our view, reimbursement is proper.

Section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 668 (1988), requires agencies to provide safe and healthful workplaces for employees and to acquire, maintain and require the use of safety and personal protective equipment to protect employees as necessary. Under standards promulgated by the Secretary of Labor, the general requirement is that personal protective equipment for extremities must be provided, used, and maintained whenever hazards or environment may cause injury or impairment 29 C.F.R. Sec. 1910.132(a) (1990). Occupational foot protection-- safety-toe footwear-- is specifically mentioned as a type of safety equipment. 29 C.F.R. Sec. 1910.136.

Our Office has allowed expenditures on protective footwear for Drug Enforcement Administration agents assigned to temporary duty in jungle environments upon administrative determination under section 19 that such footwear was necessary to protect agents from jungle hazards. B-187507, Dec. 23, 1976. We have also held that the Internal Revenue Service properly used appropriated funds to purchase steel toe safety shoes for a supply clerk whose work included moving heavy objects such as files, desks and pallets using a variety of equipment. 67 Comp.Gen. 104 (1987).

In the present case, DLA has issued a directive /1/ setting up a program in which employees may be reimbursed up to $55.00 for purchases of safety shoes meeting standards set by the American National Standards Institute. Only DLA employees who are assigned to work in certain designated "foot protection areas" /2/ are to be authorized by their supervisors to purchase safety shoes. Before an employee is authorized to buy safety shoes, the employee's supervisor must verify that safety shoes are required, and the authorization must be approved by a safety officer in DLA's Safety and Health Office. A similar authorization and approval must be obtained when the shoes become unserviceable and need to be replaced.

It appears that the safety shoe reimbursement program is a proper exercise of the authority conferred upon DLA under section 19. Moreover, DLA's concern about violating the "voluntary creditor" rule is misplaced, because that rule does not apply in these circumstances.

A voluntary creditor is a person who has attempted to make himself a creditor of the government by spending personal funds to pay what he perceives to be a government obligation without being authorized or required by law to do so. See generally, 62 Comp.Gen. 419 (1963). Here, however, DLA is specifically obligated to acquire and maintain safety shoes under section 19 and the implementing regulations, and DLA employees are instructed to buy safety shoes only after their supervisors have verified on a case by case basis that the shoes are in fact needed and have authorized the individual employees to purchase them.

Accordingly, DLA may properly use appropriated funds to reimburse employees for purchases of safety shoes.

/1/ Chapter 2 of the DLA Safety Health Manual.

/2/ According to DLA, a foot protection area is an industrial work environment (for example, a warehouse) in which heavy objects are moved and lifted using heavy equipment such as forklifts.