B-245649, Apr 30, 1992

B-245649: Apr 30, 1992

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Decides to return to the continental United States 10 months after her retirement from federal service in Alaska may not be paid travel expenses since her return is not incidental to her retirement. Ackerman: This is in response to a request for a decision concerning the entitlement of Ms. Ackerman was transferred to Alaska from Charleston on June 1. When she was promoted to Port Director at Ketchikan. Ackerman stated that she and her husband have serious health problems that cannot be treated locally. She would have returned to her home in Charleston when she retired. Because return travel was not requested until nearly a year after Ms. The Customs Service believes that there is no authority under the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR).

B-245649, Apr 30, 1992

DIGEST: A retired employee who, because of health reasons, decides to return to the continental United States 10 months after her retirement from federal service in Alaska may not be paid travel expenses since her return is not incidental to her retirement.

Bertha D. Ackerman:

This is in response to a request for a decision concerning the entitlement of Ms. Bertha D. Ackerman, a retired civilian employee of the United States Customs Service, Department of the Treasury, to the payment of separation travel and transportation expenses from Ketchikan, Alaska, to Charleston, South Carolina. /1/

Ms. Ackerman was transferred to Alaska from Charleston on June 1, 1980, and served at several locations there until March 1, 1987, when she was promoted to Port Director at Ketchikan, Alaska, where she retired 3 years later on March 10, 1990. She and her husband continued to live in Ketchikan after her retirement.

On March 3, 1991, Ms. Ackerman wrote the District Director in Anchorage, Alaska, requesting that the government pay for separation travel to her original point of hire in Charleston. She also requested a 6-month extension. She explained that at the time of her retirement she did not realize that she could not live in Ketchikan because of the lack of medical specialists. Ms. Ackerman stated that she and her husband have serious health problems that cannot be treated locally.

Ms. Ackerman reports that she first became aware of her entitlement to reimbursement of separation travel and transportation expenses 10 months after her retirement, in January 1991, when she took her husband to the Stanford Heart Clinic in San Francisco for a checkup after he had undergone shock treatment. Ms. Ackerman states that, if she had known of the seriousness of their health problems and the unavailability of medical specialists, she would have returned to her home in Charleston when she retired. She maintains that she fulfilled her contract with the Customs Service and trusted them to give her the benefits she earned.

Because return travel was not requested until nearly a year after Ms. Ackerman's separation, the Customs Service believes that there is no authority under the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR), as interpreted by the Comptroller General, for the government to pay the separation travel and transportation expenses of Ms. Ackerman. However, because of the serious health problems which developed subsequent to her separation, the Customs Service has submitted the question for our decision.

Payment for travel and transportation expenses incurred incident to an employee's return from a position outside the continental United States is authorized by 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5722(a)(2) (1988). An agency may pay such expenses only after the employee has served a minimum period of not less than 1 nor more than 3 years prescribed in advance. 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5722(c). The Federal Travel Regulation, 41 C.F.R. Sec. 302 1.5(b)(2), states that, except as precluded by chapter 302, such expenses shall be allowed, provided the employee has complied with the terms of the service agreement. Additionally, 41 C.F.R. Sec. 302-1.6 (1991), provides:

"All travel, including that for the immediate family, and transportation, including that for household goods allowed under this chapter 302, shall be accomplished as soon as possible. The maximum time for beginning allowable travel and transportation shall not exceed 2 years from the effective date of the employee's transfer or appointment. ..."

The agency's counsel reports that he was unable to locate anything more specific in the Customs Service Travel Handbook.

With respect to an employee's entitlement to the payment of travel and transportation expenses back to the United States following separation from service, this Office has consistently held that such travel and transportation must be clearly incidental to the termination of the employee's assignment and should commence within a reasonable time after the termination of the assignment in order for return expenses to be reimbursable. /2/

It appears that Ms. Ackerman did not intend to return to the continental United States at the time of her retirement. Her decision to return was caused by her discovery 10 months after retirement that she and her husband had serious health problems for which treatment is not available in Ketchikan, Alaska. Under the circumstances, the return travel is not incidental to her separation. Accordingly, the expenses of her travel may not be paid.

/1/ The request was submitted by Mr. Michael T. Schmitz, Chief Counsel, U.S. Customs Service, Ref. AD-91-0589 CC:JEL.

/2/ See Consuelo K. Wassink, 62 Comp.Gen. 200 (1983); 52 Comp.Gen. 407 (1973); 28 Comp.Gen. 285 (1948).

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