Validity of Regulations Dealing With Leave Settlements for Public Health Service Officers

B-201706: Mar 17, 1981

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A request was made for a decision on the validity of regulations which operate to divest a commissioned officer of the Public Health Service (PHS) of unused accumulated and accrued annual leave if the officer resigns prior to completing an obligated term of active duty. A 1950 statutory provision has specified the conditions which a PHS officer must meet in order to be eligible for approval of a leave settlement upon his separation from active duty. GAO has held that a PHS officer who fulfills all of the conditions prescribed by the statute and implementing regulations may not arbitrarily be denied a final leave settlement and that such an officer is legally entitled either to a lump-sum leave payment or, if appropriate, to have his PHS leave balance transferred to a civil service leave account. Federal agencies must act within the authority granted to them by the statute in issuing regulations. Regulations are deemed to be within an agency's statutory authority and consistent with congressional intent unless shown to be arbitrary or inconsistent with the statutory purpose. In that connection, the construction of a statute by those charged with its execution is to be followed unless there are compelling indications that it is wrong, especially when Congress has declined to alter that administrative construction in later amendments to the statute. Although the history of the 1950 legislation pertaining to the leave system of the PHS Commissioned Corps does show that Congress intended to confer upon PHS officers substantially the same benefits as provided for members of the Armed Forces, many significant and obvious differences exist between those leave systems. GAO held that the longstanding regulations which operate to divest a PHS officer of unused accrued leave if he fails to complete his active duty obligation are valid and within the scope of the statute. Accordingly, prior decisions concerning the issue were affirmed.