Claim for Reimbursement of House-Hunting Trip Expenses

B-197816: Jun 24, 1981

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An advance decision was requested concerning the propriety of seeking repayment of a travel advance issued to an employee for a house-hunting trip. The employee was issued permanent change of station orders to Virginia and went on an authorized house-hunting trip for which he had received a travel advance. Upon returning from the trip, the employee declined to transfer because his wife's allergy condition prevented her from living in the humid climate of Virginia. Subsequently, the employee's transfer was cancelled. The agency presently seeks reimbursement for the travel advance paid to the employee for the house-hunting trip. It maintained that the medical evidence submitted by the employee does not clearly establish that his wife could not reside in Virginia, and even if this fact were established, it would still seek reimbursement of the travel advance. Regulations provide that, when an employee makes a house-hunting trip to a new duty station and then declines the transfer, he is subject to recovery of the amounts reimbursed for travel. GAO would not object to the agency's payment of the costs of the house-hunting trip if it is determined that the employee's failure to comply with the transfer was solely for a reason beyond his control and this reason was acceptable to the agency. However, whether or not the reason advanced by the employee in this case meets this test is primarily for determination by the agency. GAO will not disturb the agency's decision unless it is clearly erroneous, arbitrary, or capricious. The claim was remanded to the agency to be settled in accordance with this decision.