A review was made of current law governing relocation of government employees and existing Air Force practice relating to the transportation of house trailers owned by its members. The statute authorizing trailer allowances provides that, under regulations prescribed by the Secretaries concerned and in lieu of transportation of baggage and household effects or payment of a dislocation allowance, a member of the uniformed services may transport a house trailer or mobile dwelling within and between specified geographical areas. For transportation of a house trailer, the statute clearly limits the cost to the government to the lowest of three ceilings, namely: (1) 74 cents per mile; (2) the current average cost of commercial transportation; and (3) the combined cost of transporting the member's maximum weight allowance of household goods plus a dislocation allowance. The Joint Travel Regulations require that a member agree in writing to repay the government any excess costs involved including any costs in excess of the lowest statutory ceiling. Since the current average line-haul charge by carriers is about $1.30 per mile, nearly every movement results in excess costs. The Secretary of the Air Force is empowered to remit or cancel any part of the enlisted member's indebtedness to the United States remaining unpaid before, or at the time of, that member's honorable discharge. The review disclosed that the Air Force adopted a policy of automatic remission of this indebtedness, probably as early as 1974. The broad language of the remission statute provides the Secretary of the Air Force with discretion regarding the remission of these debts. However, by use of an automatic remission policy, the Secretary is using that broad discretion to circumvent a limitation imposed by another provision of law. GAO feels that the discretion under the remission statute should be used in keeping with congressional intent that applications for remission be considered on the merits of individual cases and that automatic remission was not the congressional purpose when the remission authority was enacted or when the statutorily imposed maximum was enacted.
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