B-98336, JAN. 31, 1962

B-98336: Jan 31, 1962

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ARE HELD OVER FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION. A BENEFICIARY AT A VETERANS ADMINISTRATION FACILITY IS NOT CONSIDERED IN A TRAVEL STATUS ALTHOUGH HIS EXPENSES IN TRAVELING TO AND FROM THE FACILITY ARE REIMBURSABLE UNDER 38 U.S.C. 111. LONG BEEN THE PRACTICE OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION TO FURNISH BENEFICIARIES WITH MEALS AND LODGING TO THE EXTENT THEY ARE RETAINED AT A FACILITY FOR THE PURPOSE OF A VETERANS ADMINISTRATION PROGRAM. BENEFICIARIES ARE ISSUED REQUESTS FOR MEALS AND LODGING. THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION IS THEN BILLED BY THESE ESTABLISHMENTS FOR THE MEALS AND LODGING PROVIDED.'. IT IS PROPOSED. IN LIEU OF ISSUING MEAL AND LODGING REQUESTS TO BENEFICIARIES WHOSE RETENTION OVER A MEAL PERIOD OR OVERNIGHT IS ADMINISTRATIVELY CONSIDERED TO BE FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION.

B-98336, JAN. 31, 1962

TO ADMINISTRATOR, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION:

YOUR LETTER OF NOVEMBER 13, 1961, SUBMITTED FOR OUR CONSIDERATION A PROPOSED MODIFICATION OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION PROCEDURE IN FURNISHING MEALS AND LODGING TO PROGRAM BENEFICIARIES WHO, IN REPORTING FOR MEDICAL EXAMINATION, TREATMENT OR COUNSELING, ARE HELD OVER FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION.

A BENEFICIARY AT A VETERANS ADMINISTRATION FACILITY IS NOT CONSIDERED IN A TRAVEL STATUS ALTHOUGH HIS EXPENSES IN TRAVELING TO AND FROM THE FACILITY ARE REIMBURSABLE UNDER 38 U.S.C. 111. SEE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION MANUAL, MP-1, PART II, SECTION 202.06. IT HAS, HOWEVER, LONG BEEN THE PRACTICE OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION TO FURNISH BENEFICIARIES WITH MEALS AND LODGING TO THE EXTENT THEY ARE RETAINED AT A FACILITY FOR THE PURPOSE OF A VETERANS ADMINISTRATION PROGRAM. WHERE MEALS AND LODGING CANNOT BE FURNISHED IN KIND, BENEFICIARIES ARE ISSUED REQUESTS FOR MEALS AND LODGING. "THE BENEFICIARIES THEN USE THESE REQUESTS TO PROCURE THE MEALS AND LODGING FROM EATING ESTABLISHMENTS AND HOTELS. THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION IS THEN BILLED BY THESE ESTABLISHMENTS FOR THE MEALS AND LODGING PROVIDED.'

TO SIMPLIFY PROCEDURE AND REDUCE THE ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSE INVOLVED, IT IS PROPOSED, IN LIEU OF ISSUING MEAL AND LODGING REQUESTS TO BENEFICIARIES WHOSE RETENTION OVER A MEAL PERIOD OR OVERNIGHT IS ADMINISTRATIVELY CONSIDERED TO BE FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION, THAT THE FOLLOWING ALTERNATE METHODS BE ADOPTED:

1. PURCHASE BY THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION OF A BLOCK OF MEAL AND LODGING TICKETS TO BE ISSUED TO BENEFICIARIES TO ENABLE THEM TO OBTAIN MEALS AND LODGING FROM A SPECIFIC EATING ESTABLISHMENT OR HOTEL, OR

2. ADVANCE OF CASH TO ELIGIBLE BENEFICIARIES FOR MEALS OR LODGING, OR

3. REIMBURSEMENT OF ACTUAL EXPENSES INCURRED IN OBTAINING MEALS AND LODGING.

IN CONNECTION WITH THE PROPOSED PROCEDURAL CHANGES THERE IS FOR CONSIDERATION 31 U.S.C. 529, GENERALLY PROHIBITING THE ADVANCE OF PUBLIC MONEYS. THE SECTION STATES:

"NO ADVANCE OF PUBLIC MONEY SHALL BE MADE IN ANY CASE UNLESS AUTHORIZED BY THE APPROPRIATION CONCERNED OR OTHER LAW. AND IN ALL CASES OF CONTRACTS FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF ANY SERVICE, OR THE DELIVERY OF ARTICLES OF ANY DESCRIPTION, FOR THE USE OF THE UNITED STATES, PAYMENT SHALL NOT EXCEED THE VALUE OF THE SERVICE RENDERED, OR OF THE ARTICLES DELIVERED PREVIOUSLY TO SUCH PAYMENT. * * *"

THE FIRST TWO ALTERNATIVE METHODS OF FURNISHING MEALS AND LODGING ARE CLEARLY WITHIN THE SCOPE OF THE PROHIBITION. THE FIRST METHOD INVOLVES PREPAYMENT FOR ARTICLES AND SERVICES TO BE FURNISHED BY EATING AND LODGING ESTABLISHMENTS. THE SECOND METHOD INVOLVES THE ADVANCE OF PUBLIC FUNDS TO BENEFICIARIES. YOUR LETTER INDICATES THAT THE PURCHASE OF A BLOCK OF MEAL AND LODGING TICKETS WOULD BE SIMILAR TO THE LONG EXISTING AND ACCEPTED PRACTICE OF BULK PURCHASE OF LOCAL TRANSPORTATION TOKENS FOR ISSUANCE TO EMPLOYEES OR BENEFICIARIES.

WHILE THE BULK PURCHASE OF LOCAL TRANSPORTATION TICKETS OR TOKENS HAS LONG BEEN RECOGNIZED AS NOT PRECLUDED BY THE ADVANCE PAYMENT PROHIBITION OF 31 U.S.C. 529 (SEE 14 COMP. GEN. 322, 323), THE GENERAL MANDATE OF THE SECTION CANNOT BE OVERLOOKED; AND WE PERCEIVE NO JUSTIFICATION FOR ENLARGING UPON THE RECOGNIZED EXCEPTION OR OTHERWISE EXCLUDING FROM THE PURVIEW OF THE PROHIBITION THE PROPOSED PURCHASING OF BLOCKS OF MEAL AND LODGING TICKETS, OR THE ADVANCING OF FUNDS TO ELIGIBLE BENEFICIARIES. COMP. GEN. 77; ID. 226, 230; 39 ID. 659; B 139388, JUNE 4, 1959.

ACCORDINGLY, YOU ARE ADVISED THAT IN THE ABSENCE OF LEGISLATIVE AUTHORIZATION, AS REQUIRED BY 31 U.S.C. 529, THE ADOPTION OF THE FIRST TWO ALTERNATIVE METHODS OF FURNISHING MEALS AND LODGING TO ELIGIBLE BENEFICIARIES WOULD BE SUBJECT TO OBJECTION. WE PERCEIVE NO OBJECTION, HOWEVER, TO IMPLEMENTING THE PRESENT PRACTICE BY REIMBURSING AN ELIGIBLE BENEFICIARY THE REASONABLE COST OF MEALS AND LODGING INCURRED WHILE RETAINED FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION.