B-196960 L/M, FEB 19, 1980

B-196960 L/M: Feb 19, 1980

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Shirley Jones
(202) 512-8156
jonessa@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

VETERANS ADMINISTRATION: THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO YOUR REQUEST THAT RELIEF BE GRANTED IN THE AMOUNT OF $3. CIKER WAS ON ANNUAL LEAVE. SCHOMANN WAS STATIONED IN THE OFFICE AT THE TIME. THE SAFE WAS CLOSED BUT NOT LOCKED AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENT. THE CASHIER'S OFFICE IS IN AN AREA WHERE HOSPITAL VISITORS ARE OFTEN "MILLING AROUND.". THE DOOR TO THE CASHIER'S OFFICE OPENS INTO THE HALLWAY WHERE THERE IS CONSIDERABLE TRAFFIC COMING AND GOING FROM THE MEDICAL CENTER. IT IS NOT KNOWN HOW THE INTRUDER WAS ABLE TO GAIN ACCESS TO THE AGENT CASHIER'S OFFICE. IT WAS NOT DESIGNED TO STAY OPEN. THE DOOR MECHANISM WAS APPARENTLY OPERATING SATISFACTORILY. THE DIRECTOR'S REPORT INDICATES THAT IT WAS NOT TOO DIFFICULT TO INSERT SOMETHING IN THE LOCKING MECHANISM TO PREVENT THE AUTOMATIC LOCKING OF THE DOOR.

B-196960 L/M, FEB 19, 1980

OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL

CONRAD R. HOFFMAN, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION:

THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO YOUR REQUEST THAT RELIEF BE GRANTED IN THE AMOUNT OF $3,282.36 TO COVER A SHORTAGE IN THE ADVANCE ACCOUNT OF RUTH M. CIKER, CLASS B CASHIER, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION MEDICAL CENTER, BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. RELIEF HAS BEEN REQUESTED FOR MRS. CONSTANCE SCHOMANN, SECOND ALTERNATE CLASS B CASHIER.

ON SEPTEMBER 27, 1979, WHILE MRS. CIKER WAS ON ANNUAL LEAVE, A MAN ENTERED THE AGENT CASHIER'S OFFICE OF THE MEDICAL CENTER DURING WORKING HOURS AT 8:35 A.M. THE SECOND ALTERNATE CASHIER, MRS. SCHOMANN WAS STATIONED IN THE OFFICE AT THE TIME, TYPING AT HER DESK WITH HER BACK TO THE DOOR, AND DID NOT NOTICE THE INTRUDER. THE INTRUDER APPARENTLY OPENED THE DOOR TO THE CLOSED SAFE AND TOOK A CASH BOX FROM THE SAFE CONTAINING $3,282.61. BEFORE MRS. SCHOMANN COULD REACT, THE INTRUDER RAN OUT OF THE OFFICE AND ESCAPED. THE SAFE WAS CLOSED BUT NOT LOCKED AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENT.

WHILE AT LEAST ONE OTHER EMPLOYEE HAD OBSERVED THE INTRUDER, THE CASHIER'S OFFICE IS IN AN AREA WHERE HOSPITAL VISITORS ARE OFTEN "MILLING AROUND." THE DIRECTOR OF THE MEDICAL CENTER INDICATES THAT BECAUSE OF THIS, SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT BELONG COULD NOT BE READILY DETERMINED. THE DOOR TO THE CASHIER'S OFFICE OPENS INTO THE HALLWAY WHERE THERE IS CONSIDERABLE TRAFFIC COMING AND GOING FROM THE MEDICAL CENTER.

IT IS NOT KNOWN HOW THE INTRUDER WAS ABLE TO GAIN ACCESS TO THE AGENT CASHIER'S OFFICE. THE DOOR TO THIS OFFICE SHOULD AUTOMATICALLY CLOSE AND LOCK; IT WAS NOT DESIGNED TO STAY OPEN. IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE ROBBERY, THE DOOR MECHANISM WAS APPARENTLY OPERATING SATISFACTORILY. THE DIRECTOR'S REPORT INDICATES THAT IT WAS NOT TOO DIFFICULT TO INSERT SOMETHING IN THE LOCKING MECHANISM TO PREVENT THE AUTOMATIC LOCKING OF THE DOOR. HOWEVER, THERE IS NO INDICATION IN THE RECORD WHETHER THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED ON THIS OCCASION.

THE ROBBERY WAS INVESTIGATED BY THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION AND THE BALTIMORE CITY POLICE. THESE INVESTIGATIONS WERE UNABLE TO UNCOVER LEADS AS TO THE IDENTITY OF THE THIEF.

SECTION 82A-1 OF TITLE 31, U. S. CODE, REQUIRES AS A PRECONDITION TO THE GRANT OF RELIEF THAT THE HEAD OF THE AGENCY (OR SOMEONE TO WHOM HE DELEGATES THIS AUTHORITY) DETERMINE (1) THAT THE LOSS OCCURRED EITHER WHILE THE ACCOUNTABLE OFFICER WAS ACTING IN THE DISCHARGE OF HER OFFICIAL DUTIES OR BY REASON OF AN ACT OF A SUBORDINATE, AND (2) THAT THE LOSS OCCURRED WITHOUT FAULT OR NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE ACCOUNTABLE OFFICER. OUR CONCURRENCE IN THESE DETERMINATIONS IS ALSO A PRECONDITION TO THE GRANT OF RELIEF.

YOU STATE THAT THE MEDICAL CENTER OFFICIALS HAVE CONCLUDED THAT THERE WAS NO CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF MRS. SCHOMANN OR ANY OTHER EMPLOYEE OF THE MEDICAL CENTER AND REQUEST RELIEF FOR MRS. SCHOMANN PURSUANT TO 31 U.S.C. SEC. 82A-1. HOWEVER, IT IS NOT ENOUGH THAT MEDICAL CENTER OFFICIALS FIND NO NEGLIGENCE; THE ADMINISTRATOR OR HIS DELEGATE MUST INDEPENDENTLY MAKE THE REQUIRED FINDINGS. YOUR LETTER DOES NOT EXPLICITLY SAY THAT THEY HAVE BEEN MADE. IN ADDITION, IT IS CLEAR TO US WHO WAS ACCOUNTABLE AT THE TIME OF THE LOSS.

MRS. CIKER WAS ON ANNUAL LEAVE DURING THE DAY OF THE ROBBERY AND ACCORDING TO THE RECORD, THE FIRST ALTERNATE CASHIER, MRS. ELAINE M. BUMBAUGH, WAS "RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENTIRE ACCOUNTABILITY" AT THE TIME OF THE THEFT. NO EVIDENCE EXISTS IN THE RECORD TO INDICATE THAT MRS. CIKER'S ACTIONS WERE THE PROXIMATE CAUSE OF THE LOSS. WE THEREFORE WOULD GRANT HER RELIEF ON THIS RECORD IF THE REQUIRED FINDINGS ARE MADE.

AS TO THE OTHER CASHIERS, MRS. ELAINE M. BUMBAUGH, THE FIRST ALTERNATE CASHIER, AND MRS. CONSTANCE SCHOMANN, THE SECOND ALTERNATE CASHIER, THE RECORD IS NOT CLEAR AS TO THEIR RESPECTIVE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE STOLEN FUNDS. AS NOTED ABOVE, MRS. BUMBAUGH WAS ACTING CASHIER AT THE TIME. THIS WOULD MAKE HER RESPONSIBLE FOR SAFEGUARDING THE FUNDS BUT AT THE TIME OF THE LOSS SHE WAS NOT IN THE CASHIER'S OFFICE. MRS. SCHOMANN, IT IS SAID, WAS "STATIONED IN THE AGENT CASHIER'S OFFICE AT THE TIME" BUT THERE IS A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN YOUR CHARACTERIZATION OF MRS. SCHOMANN AS "THE CASHIER ON DUTY" AND THE MEDICAL CENTER DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT THAT MRS. BUMBAUGH WAS THE CASHIER RESPONSIBLE AT THE TIME OF THE THEFT.

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES WHO ARE ENTRUSTED WITH FEDERAL FUNDS ARE EXPECTED TO EXERCISE THE HIGHEST DEGREE OF CARE IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THEIR DUTY. WHEN SUCH FUNDS ARE LOST, A PRESUMPTION ARISES THAT THE RESPONSIBLE OFFICIAL WAS DERELICT IN SOME WAY. 48 COMP.GEN. 566 (1969).

IN THIS CASE THE PRESENT RECORD WOULD LEAD TO THE CONCLUSION THAT THERE WAS NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF WHOEVER WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR SECURING THE FUNDS AT THE TIME OF THE LOSS, AND THAT THIS NEGLIGENCE WAS A PROXIMATE CAUSE OF THE LOSS. THE EXISTENCE OF AN AUTOMATIC DOOR CLOSING DEVICE TO THE OFFICE DOES NOT EXCUSE THE FACT THAT THE SAFE WAS NOT LOCKED. WE HAVE HELD CONSISTENTLY THAT THE FAILURE TO LOCK A SAFE CONTAINING PUBLIC FUNDS IS NEGLIGENT. B-180957, SEPTEMBER 15, 1975; B-188733, MARCH 29, 1979; B-177430, SEPTEMBER 5, 1975; B-190506, NOVEMBER 28, 1977.

ACCORDINGLY, BEFORE GRANTING RELIEF FOR MRS. SCHOMANN, THE RECORD MUST BE DEVELOPED TO EXPLAIN IN DETAIL WHETHER SHE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FUNDS AT THE TIME AND FOR LOCKING THE SAFE, AND THE REQUIRED FINDINGS MUST BE MADE. IF HER RESPONSIBILITY WAS TURNED OVER TO MRS. BUMBAUGH, THE RECORD SHOULD EXPLAIN THIS FACT AND RELIEF SHOULD BE REQUESTED FOR MRS. BUMBAUGH. AS EXPLAINED ABOVE, THE PRESENT RECORD SUFFICES, IF THE REQUIRED FINDINGS ARE MADE, TO RELIEVE MRS. CIKER.