GAO was requested to render an advance decision concerning the legality of a proposed change in the Department of State regulations dealing with repatriation of destitute Americans. Historically, Congress has appropriated monies to the Secretary's Confidential Fund with the understanding that the funds would be used to provide loans to Americans needing financial assistance in returning to the United States. To ensure the proper use of these funds, the Department of State has promulgated regulations which define the circumstances in which financial assistance is to be provided and the procedures which must be followed. Generally, the individual is responsible for resolving his personal financial difficulties. However, when a U.S. national is seeking to return to the United States after a relatively brief period of absence, is destitute, and is without relatives and friends who are able and willing to help, the Department of State will provide temporary financial assistance. In these circumstances, the Department of State will provide a 60-day, interest-free loan to be used for subsistence and repatriation. Existing Department of State regulations require the use of U.S. air carriers in repatriation cases where such service is available. The amendment proposed by the Department of State would permit foreign carriers to be used where they are less costly than their U.S. counterparts. The Department of State's primary concern was whether this would violate the Fly America Act. GAO determined that the Act applies only to the activities of an executive department or other agency or instrumentality of the United States. An individual's actions in procuring air transportation is not covered unless payment for the transportation is made by the United States. By virtue of the repatriated individual's obligation to make repayment, the expenditure involved in purchasing air transportation by such an individual must be viewed as an expenditure of individual funds. This determination was predicated on the assumption that the Department of State will not purchase air transportation directly from the carrier, but that the purchase of transportation will be made from the funds loaned to the repatriated individual. Accordingly, GAO had no objection to the proposed amendment.
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