Legality of Actions by the Department of Commerce in Obligating Funds

B-206668: Published: Mar 15, 1982. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 1982.

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GAO was asked about the legality of actions taken by the Department of Commerce in obligating funds under its fiscal year 1982 general administration appropriation at a level which appeared to be higher than that approved by Congress. GAO concluded that the budgetary actions taken by Commerce constituted illegal transfers of funds from appropriations for its bureaus and offices to its general administration appropriation. These actions also constituted improper augmentations of the general administration appropriation. In doing so, Commerce implemented a plan under which it continues to operate activities of the Office of the Secretary at the level requested by the Administration rather than at the level approved by Congress. The Economy Act authorizes tranfers of funds between appropriations as reimbursement for services performed by one agency or organization for another. However, the Act is applicable only when there is no statute which appropriates money for the provider to render the service in question. In this case, general administration funds are available. Thus, the Economy Act may not be used as an authority for the transfer of these funds; therefore, the actions of Commerce are unlawful. If fiscal year 1982 funds for general administration are insufficient, Commerce may not make up the difference from bureau appropriations. If, by the end of the fiscal year, Commerce has not reduced its general administration expenses and if no supplemental appropriations have been enacted, an Antideficiency Act violation will probably have occurred.

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