Propriety of Agency Fund Use

B-199247: Aug 21, 1980

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A firm objected to an agency decision to fund certain projects under the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act (Fishery Products) and contended that its grant application was not evaluated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on an equal basis with the others. The protester asserted that it was improper under the Act and the notices published in the Federal Register for the Department of Commerce to fund projects suggested by the agency's own component organizations from the money announced as available. GAO does not consider itself as an appropriate forum in which to air complaints concerning the denial of grant applications or the actual awards of grants. Since the complaint essentially involved a Federal grantor agency's determination with respect to which grant applications merited funding, GAO would not review that complaint. Pursuant to the Act, the Secretary of Agriculture must transfer to the Secretary of Commerce each fiscal year an amount equal to 30 percent of the gross receipts from duties on fish imports, to be maintained in a separate fund which is often referred to as the S-K fund. The Act provides broad discretion to the Secretary of Commerce to use the S-K fund in whatever manner the Secretary considers will further the purposes of the Act, namely American fishery development and research. There was no basis to conclude that in the exercise of that discretion, the Secretary may not determine that those purposes could be best promoted in projects conducted by the agency's personnel. Historically, the fund has been used to supplement monies appropriated to NOAA for operations, research, and facilities. Therefore, in the opinion of GAO, it was not improper for NOAA to use the S-K Fund to fund Department of Commerce projects related to American fishery development and research. Accordingly, the protest was dismissed in part and denied in part.