Matter of: Charles L. Wallace File: B-248018 Date: June 12, 1992

B-248018: Jun 12, 1992

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CIVILIAN PERSONNEL Relocation Household goods Commuted rates Reimbursement Amount determination A transferred employee may not be reimbursed at the commuted rate for his household goods shipment on the basis of an amended travel order issued after shipment was completed. There is no indication of error in the original travel order. The amended order has no legal effect since it purports to limit the amount to be reimbursed under the commuted rate schedule for which there is no statutory or regulatory authority. His reimbursement is limited to his actual expenses. DECISION The issue presented is whether Mr. Wallace was issued travel orders for a permanent change of station from Palmdale. [3] and the estimated shipping cost was $11.

Matter of: Charles L. Wallace File: B-248018 Date: June 12, 1992

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL Relocation Household goods Commuted rates Reimbursement Amount determination A transferred employee may not be reimbursed at the commuted rate for his household goods shipment on the basis of an amended travel order issued after shipment was completed. There is no indication of error in the original travel order, and the amended order has no legal effect since it purports to limit the amount to be reimbursed under the commuted rate schedule for which there is no statutory or regulatory authority. Since the employee chose to use rental vehicles to move his household goods himself, his reimbursement is limited to his actual expenses.

DECISION

The issue presented is whether Mr. Charles L. Wallace, an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), may be reimbursed at the commuted rate [1] for a shipment of his household goods to his new duty station. [2]

Mr. Wallace was issued travel orders for a permanent change of station from Palmdale, California, to Washington, D.C., with a reporting date of August 21, 1989. The travel orders authorized the GBL method of shipping the household goods, [3] and the estimated shipping cost was $11,354 for 18,000 pounds. The travel orders also contained a statement in the remarks section that "Employee will move own household goods not to exceed GBL rate for total weight of household goods. Employee will determine total weight and provide certification." Mr. Wallace shipped the household goods himself by rental vehicle and has provided receipts for his expenses in the amount of $452.27. He has also provided valid weight certificates which indicate that the household goods weighed 17,780 pounds.

On April 12, 1991, approximately 21 months after Mr. Wallace moved his household goods to the new duty station, Mr. Wallace's office amended his travel order to authorize shipment under the commuted rate method on the basis that it was their original intent to allow this method of shipment because of the special handling Mr. Wallace preferred for some of his belongings. The amended travel orders stated that: "Employee is authorized commuted rate for movement of household goods, not to exceed GBL rate ($11,354)."

Mr. Wallace filed a claim for $11,354 on the basis of the amended travel order, which was subsequently denied by the FAA, and the denial later became the subject of a formal internal grievance procedure. The grievance examiner found in favor of Mr. Wallace since, in his opinion, it was the intent of the agency to authorize the commuted rate method for shipment of his household goods. The grievance examiner viewed the statement on Mr. Wallace's travel order that the "employee will determine total weight and provide certification" as indicating that the commuted rate method was intended. He, therefore, recommended that the agency accept the amended order as authorizing commuted rate reimbursement limited to the GBL rate.

The FAA does not agree with the grievance examiner's recommendations and does not believe it can legally pay this claim beyond the employee's actual costs.

The FAA, therefore, recommends that Mr. Wallace's claim be denied since the retroactive amendment authorizing shipment of his household goods under the commuted rate method constitutes an increase in benefits, and the amendment is not justified since there is no evidence of an error or omission in the original travel order. Secondly, there are no provisions in the Federal Property Management Regulations published by the General Services Administration (GSA) which limit authorized reimbursement under the commuted rate method to the cost of shipment by GBL. Thus, the amended travel order constitutes an invalid authorization.

We note that the grievance was filed under the FAA's administrative grievance system, and by our decision here we are responding to FAA's request for a resolution of the legal issue involved. An administrative grievance examiner's report is usually only a recommendation and is not binding on an agency. See Raymond W. Leone, B-222379, Apr. 10, 1987. A grievance examiner's report is also not binding on this Office since our decisions are based on the applicable laws and regulations, with the burden on the claimant to establish the liability of the United States and the claimants' right to payment. 4 C.F.R. Sec. 31.7 (1992). Further, our Office will not inquire into or review matters relative to a grievance since they are within the jurisdiction of the agency involved and the Office of Personnel Management. Lagatta and Shaffer, B-226306, May 12, 1988; 5 C.F.R. Sec. 771.301 (1992).

We agree with FAA'S view that there is no statutory or regulatory provision that permits a limitation to be placed on the rates published by GSA where the commuted rate is authorized. Travel Orders must be issued under competent authority in order to be given legal effect, i.e., they cannot purport to authorize additional reimbursement or provide for a benefit that is not provided for by regulation. This principle would apply to travel orders that purport to limit an employee's entitlement where there is no regulatory or statutory authority to do so. Charles E. Robertson, B-242457, May 24, 1991.

We also agree with the FAA that there is no evidence that the original travel order was issued in error. A check mark was placed in the GBL block on the travel order, and not in the commuted rate block. Further, the travel order contained an estimated cost to ship the household goods of $11,354. The FAA advises that this was the cost to ship 18,000 pounds of household goods by the GBL method, whereas the commuted rate entitlement is $18,749, an additional cost to the government of over $7,000. Moreover, the employee had previously advised the agency that he would move his own household goods.

We are also of the opinion that the statement on Mr. Wallace's travel order that the employee would determine total weight and provide certification relates to the known fact that the employee intended to ship his own household goods, rather than to the commuted rate method of reimbursement.

When an employee chooses to use a rental vehicle to move his household goods himself, his reimbursement is limited to his actual expenses, e.g., vehicle rental fee, material handling equipment, packaging materials, fuel, toll charges, etc., not to exceed what it would have cost the government to move the goods by commercial carrier under a GBL. 41 C.F.R. Sec. 101-40.203-2(d) (1991); Dr. David C. Smisson, B-244130, July 23, 1991.

Accordingly, since we find no error in Mr. Wallace's original travel order, and since he used rental vehicles to move his household goods, his reimbursement is limited to his actual expenses. The amended travel order is without legal effect, and Mr. Wallace's claim for additional reimbursement is denied.

1. Under the commuted rate system the employee makes the arrangements for transporting household goods and is reimbursed in accordance with schedules of commuted rates which are contained in General Services Administration Bulletin A-2. 41 C.F.R. Sec. 302-8.3(a) (1991).

2. The claim was submitted by the Director of Accounting, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Washington, D.C.

3. Government bill of lading method whereby the government makes all the shipping arrangements. 41 C.F.R. Sec. 302-8.3(b) (1991)