B-252995, June 22, 1993

B-252995: Jun 22, 1993

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Is advised that we are not aware of any authority to reimburse him for the 5 percent of his salary that was withheld for household expenses during a 2-month period that the embassy was closed for renovation. The funds were withheld in accordance with applicable provisions of the Standardized Regulations (Government Civilians. Are not unreasonable or otherwise contrary to law. Concerning a request for reimbursement of 5 percent of your salary that was utilized for household expenses for the official embassy residence in Bangkok. During a 2-month period when the embassy was closed for major renovations. You state that you were forced to reside in a small apartment during this period. You are at a loss to explain why you should be held accountable for several hundred dollars in expenses incurred for services in a residence that you were not permitted to occupy.

B-252995, June 22, 1993

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL Compensation Deductions Government-subsidized housing Foreign duty stations CIVILIAN PERSONNEL Relocation Household goods Actual expenses Reimbursement Amount determination The Deputy Chief of Mission, Bangkok, Thailand, is advised that we are not aware of any authority to reimburse him for the 5 percent of his salary that was withheld for household expenses during a 2-month period that the embassy was closed for renovation. The funds were withheld in accordance with applicable provisions of the Standardized Regulations (Government Civilians, Foreign Areas), and such regulations, promulgated by the Secretary of State pursuant to his statutory authority to issue such regulations, are not unreasonable or otherwise contrary to law.

Matthew P. Daley Deputy Chief of Mission 95 Wireless Road Bangkok, Thailand APO 96546

Dear Mr. Daley:

We refer to your letter of January 15, 1993, concerning a request for reimbursement of 5 percent of your salary that was utilized for household expenses for the official embassy residence in Bangkok, Thailand, during a 2-month period when the embassy was closed for major renovations. You state that you were forced to reside in a small apartment during this period, and you are at a loss to explain why you should be held accountable for several hundred dollars in expenses incurred for services in a residence that you were not permitted to occupy.

The State Department has denied your request for relief, citing to applicable provisions of the Standardized Regulations (Government Civilians, Foreign Areas), and stating that the situation in Bangkok was not unique and has been the subject of other inquiries over the years. The State Department reports that it has continuously held the line, without exception, that once assigned to a post, the principal representative is liable to contribute 5 percent of salary toward the usual expenses of operating and maintaining a household. Household expenses continue during a period of renovation, and the principal representative is liable for the 5 percent even during periods of temporary absence from post, which in some instances have been known to equal or exceed 2 months.

The Secretary of State has the authority to promulgate such regulations as may be necessary to carry out the functions of the Department of State. 22 U.S.C. Sec. 2658 (1988). Regulations promulgated by the Secretary pertaining to official residence expenses and usual household expenses are published in Chapter 400, Standardized Regulations (Government Civilians, Foreign Areas). Section 440 provides that the amount of annual usual household expenses that must be borne personally by a principal representative, regardless of rank or grade, is 5 percent of salary. Further, section 430-b provides that during periods of time when a principal representative is temporarily absent, including annual and home leave, the representative is not relieved from the requirements of section 440 for the periods of the absence.

Chapter 400 of the Standardized Regulations was promulgated by the Secretary of State pursuant to his statutory authority to do so in 22 U.S.C. Sec. 2658. Therefore, this Office accords great deference to the interpretation of a statute or regulation by an agency which is authorized to enforce and implement the statute or regulation. Such an interpretation will not be questioned unless it is unreasonable, or contrary to law. 61 Comp.Gen. 79 (1981).

You have not provided any evidence that the State Department's interpretation of its own regulation is unreasonable or otherwise contrary to law. As pointed out to you in a message from the Secretary of State dated December 19, 1992, household costs continue even during a period of renovation. Further, official residence expenses are available to cover those expenses which are considered unusual, i.e., in excess of five percent of the principal representative's salary. Therefore, you are not required to expend any personal funds for the official residence above the prescribed 5 percent.

The State Department has also advised that the situation is not unique, has been the subject of other inquiries over the years, and has been consistently followed.

We also note that you were provided with quarters at no cost to you upon your arrival in Bangkok, and that you resided in such quarters until such time as the renovations were completed.

Accordingly, we are not aware of any authority to reimburse you for the 5 percent of your salary that was withheld for household expenses during the 2-month renovation period since the State Department's denial of your claim was based on a reasonable interpretation of its own regulations and was not otherwise contrary to law.