Reconsideration Request Concerning Erroneous Dependency Allotments

B-194027: May 17, 1979

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A Marine sergeant requested reconsideration of GAO Claims Division's denial of a waiver of his debt to the Government arising from erroneous payments of dependency allotments during the period January-June 1973. According to the claimant, he requested termination of a $500 monthly dependency allotment payable to his wife as of December 1972, but the allotment was not stopped because the request to do so was misplaced. The allotment deduction from the sergeant's pay was terminated, however, through administrative error. Total overpayments to the claimant's wife through June 1973 totaled $3,000. The debt was reduced by over $300 at that time by applying to it an amount of money owed by the Marine Corps to the sergeant. The waiver of debt for the allotment overpayments was denied because of the size of the allotment and the time it was in force, which created a reasonable assumption that the sergeant would have learned of the error from his wife. That he took no actin in this regard led to an inference of at least partial guilt on his part. During the period in question, the sergeant was transferred overseas to Okinawa and he stated that his absence at this time explained his ignorance of the erroneous allotment. The Comptroller General is statutorily permitted to waive reimbursement of debts owed the Government when collection would be opposed to equity and good conscience and not in the best interests of the United States, but only when there is no fault on the part of the person interested in the waiver. However, the Government also has a right to recover payments in excess of amounts legally authorized and the recipient has an obligation to make restitution. A waiver is not a right, but a matter of administrative grace or dispensation subject to legal limitations. The burden of proof is on the individual to show that there was no reasonable basis for him to know or suspect that erroneous payments were being made. Since the sergeant could not make such a showing, the Claims Division's denial of a waiver was sustained.