APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Cashiers - Relief - Physical losses - Theft APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Determination criteria DIGEST: Accountable officer is relieved of liability for physical loss resulting from criminal activity beyond her control. District Ranger is not an accountable officer. This Office is not the appropriate agency to address his liability. D.C. 20090-6090: This is in response to your letter of January 13. 400 was taken from Ms. Which was stored in a secured safe. Is liable for the total loss from the burglary. Your investigation concluded that the burglar(s) opened the safe where the money was stored after finding the safe's combination in Mr.
B-234242, Feb 6, 1990
APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Cashiers - Relief - Physical losses - Theft APPROPRIATIONS/FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT - Accountable Officers - Determination criteria DIGEST: Accountable officer is relieved of liability for physical loss resulting from criminal activity beyond her control. District Ranger is not an accountable officer; this Office is not the appropriate agency to address his liability.
Mr. Charles R. Hartgraves Associate Deputy Chief, Forest Service Department of Agriculture 12th and Independence, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20090-6090:
This is in response to your letter of January 13, 1989, asking that we relieve Anne C. Roberts, a cashier in the Ranger District Office, Prospect, Oregon, of liability for a loss of $1,400. An investigation concluded that the $1,400 was taken from Ms. Roberts' locked cash drawer, which was stored in a secured safe, during the course of a burglary of the office. /1/ For the reasons set forth below, we grant Ms. Roberts the relief you request.
You also asked our opinion on whether Manual Castenada, the District Ranger, is liable for the total loss from the burglary, $2,608.10. Your investigation concluded that the burglar(s) opened the safe where the money was stored after finding the safe's combination in Mr. Castenada's desk. Because this question does not involve the liability or relief of an accountable officer, it is not appropriate that we address it.
An investigation by the Jackson County, Oregon Sheriff's Department found that on June 18, 1988, the Prospect Ranger District Office was burglarized. According to the Sheriff's crime report, the office's main safe was opened without the use of force. Seven locked cash drawers stored in the safe were pried open, and approximately $2,608.10 was removed from the drawers, including $1,400 from Ms. Roberts' drawer. The Sheriff's Department found a tag with the safe's combination written on it lying on the floor underneath the safe. However, the Sheriff found no connection between Ms. Roberts and the theft. The investigation has failed to recover any of the lost funds.
This Office is authorized to grant accountable officers relief for the physical loss of public money if we concur with the determination by the agency or department head that (1) the accountable officer was carrying out official duties when the loss occurred and (2) the loss was not the result of fault or negligence by the official. 31 U.S.C. Sec. 3527(a).
You determined that Ms. Roberts' loss of $1,400 occurred while she was acting in the discharge of her official duties and that the loss was not the result of fault or negligence on her part. Ms. Roberts' loss, you concluded, was the result of criminal activity beyond her control.
We have granted relief when the evidence is clear that a theft took place and an investigation failed to reveal a connection between the theft and the accountable officer. B-230796, Apr. 8, 1988. We therefore concur with your determination and grant Ms. Roberts the relief requested.
Your investigation of the matter suggests to you that the proximate cause of the loss of funds was Mr. Castenada's leaving the safe's combination in his desk, unsecured, where the burglar(s) apparently found it quite easily. In an effort to save the agency the cost of a qualified locksmith, and knowing of Mr. Castenada's mechanical skills, the Forest Service had entrusted him with periodically changing the safe's combination. The Ranger had recently attempted, unsuccessfully, to change the combination, and stored the combination in his desk drawer until he could deal with the problem at a later date.
Your question as to Mr. Castenada's financial liability arises from the Department of Agriculture's debt collection regulations. See Memo from Director, Fiscal and Public Safety, Forest Service, "Prospect RD Burglary, Anne Roberts, No. 8015," December 21, 1988. The regulation provides that the Department may offset an employee's salary to recover
"an amount owed to the United States by the employee for pecuniary losses where the employee has been determined to be liable due to his or her negligent, willful, unauthorized or illegal acts, including but not limited to: ... (vii) deliberate failure to provide physical security and control procedures for accountable officers, if such failure is determined to be the proximate cause for a loss of government funds."
7 C.F.R. Sec. 3.52(b)(2)(vii)(1988).
While you might eventually conclude that this regulation applies to Mr. Castenada, there is no indication that Mr. Castenada is an accountable officer for purposes of 31 U.S.C. Sec. 3527(a), and you do not so assert. An accountable officer is any government employee who by reason of his employment is responsible for, or has custody of, government funds. B-188894, Sept. 29, 1977. Although the Ranger had the combination to the safe, there is no indication that he had custody of or responsibility for the stolen funds, or that he had keys to the individual cash drawers. Furthermore, we have held that an administrative officer, such as Mr. Castenada, who supervises accountable officers as part of his general supervision of all office staff, is not, himself, accountable for the losses incurred by the accountable officers on his staff. B-194782, Aug. 13, 1979. Since this question does not involve the liability or relief of an accountable officer, this Office is not the appropriate agency to address it.
/1/ An additional $1,208.10 was taken from six other drawers. Because the losses of the other six accountable officers were less than $750 each, you administratively granted them relief. GAO, Policy and Procedures Manual for Guidance of Federal Agencies, tit. 7, 28.14(3)(a) (1984).