Reconsideration of Determination of Indebtedness

B-201771: Aug 6, 1981

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A Federal employee requested reconsideration of a Claims Division determination that he was lawfully indebted to the United States as a result of his receipt of erroneously paid relocation allowances and that he may not be relieved of his obligation to refund those erroneous payments. The employee was employed by the Postal Service when he was selected for a position with a Federal executive agency. Agency officials erroneously advised him that he was entitled to relocation expenses and, subsequently, the expenses were paid. Several years later, the agency informed the employee that as Postal Service employees are not employees of an executive agency, he was ineligible for the relocation allowance and he was liable for the refund of this amount. The agency began collection action by deducting an amount from his weekly paychecks. The employee then expressed to GAO his dissatisfaction with the way he had been treated and stated that if he had known that he was personally responsible for the relocation expenses, he would have moved in a less costly fashion. He did not feel that he was responsible for the relocation expenses, and he felt that it was improper for money to be withheld from his pay without his permission. Many former Postal Service employees who obtained employment with executive agencies received erroneous advice concerning their relocation entitlements and received erroneous payments. GAO has held that they were nevertheless obligated to refund the erroneous payments, since the Government is not responsible for or bound by the mistakes of its agents or officials. Prior misinformation alone does not furnish a proper basis for allowing employees to keep erroneous payments. The employee was lawfully indebted to the United States for the relocation costs which had been erroneously reimbursed and could not be relieved of his obligation to refund that amount. The involuntary setoff against his salary to collect his debt was lawful and proper. Accordingly, the determination made by the Claims Division was sustained.

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