Request for Waiver of Debt

B-194738: Feb 29, 1980

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A retired member of the Navy requested reconsideration of a decision denying his application for waiver of his debt to the United States. The debt resulted from erroneous payments of flight pay made to him incident to his service in the Navy. The payments were made during a 2-year period when the member did not fly and was not physically qualified for duty involving the actual control of aircraft. In this appeal, he contended that during the period of overpayment he flew in a crew status and should have been notified by letter that he was not entitled to the flight pay. GAO has the authority to waive certain debts when collection would be against equity and good conscience and not in the best interest of the United States. Legislation precludes waiver if an indication of fraud, misrepresentation, fault, or lack of good faith on the part of the member exists in connection with the claim. Fault is considered to exist if in the light of all of the facts it is determined that the member should have known that an error existed and should have taken action to correct it. In this case, the member indicated that he knew that he was medically grounded, that he was aware of flight time minimums, and that his eligibility for flight pay was questionable. There was no evidence that the member attempted to obtain a determination of his continued entitlement to the flight pay. Neither the failure to receive a letter of notification, nor the fact that the overpayments were made through administrative error relieved him of the responsibility to determine the truth in the matter. Since the member had a duty and legal obligation to return the excess sums or set aside this amount for future refund, GAO could not conclude that he was free from fault. Collection action would not be against equity and good conscience nor contrary to the best interest of the United States. Accordingly, the action of the Claims Division was sustained.