VA Office of Financial Policy — Frequently Asked Questions
1. I have an employee who has a Payment Only Card and we need to increase her limits and establish an alternate. In Volume XVI - Chapter 1, Appendix A it reads, "12. Payment-Only Authority. The Head of the Contracting Activity (HCA) or designee may delegate authority in writing for the assignment of "payment only" cards." I have been trying to find out who the HCA is. Our Contracting people are located in Leavenworth, Ks. and they couldn't answer my question. I have looked at the Office of Acquisition and Logistics web site and can't find anything. Any help you can give me concerning a name will be appreciated.
Below is a list of the HCA’s, their deputies, and their area of responsibility from the Office of Acquisition Policy in OAL. Since you are part of VHA, the HCA is Norbert Doyle right now. VHA - Norbert Doyle Deputy - Susan Taylor; VACO/OA&L/HR&A/TAC/SAC/CAI - Iris Cooper Deputy - Valerie Veatch; CFM - Robert Neary Deputy - Chris Kyrgos; NCA - David Schettler Deputy - Tracey Boyd-Vega; VBA - Bonnie Miranda Deputy - Jules Tchoujan; NAC - Craig Robinson Deputy - Sandra Murbach. Thanks.
We do not have specific policy on ordering business cards. However, you may want to check with VHA policy for anything that is VHA specific. Following is the GAO Redbook reference and a GAO Comp Gen Decision that states appropriated funds may be used for purchasing business cards that are considered a necessary expense for certain Federal employees: GAO Redbook: Page 4-243 GAO-04-261SP Appropriations Law-Vol. I b. Business or Calling Cards
Business cards or calling cards are commonly used in the commercial world. (We use the terms synonymously here even though there may be technical distinctions.) Until 1998, we considered them inherently personal in nature, and therefore, a personal expense that was not payable from appropriated funds, absent specific statutory authority. See B-246616, July 17, 1992. In 1998, however, we agreed that an agency, applying a necessary expense analysis, may reasonably determine that its appropriations are available to obtain business cards for employees who regularly deal with the public or organizations outside their immediate office. B-280759, Nov. 5, 1998. The previous rule had its origins in decisions of the Comptroller of the Treasury. For example, in 20 Comp. Dec. 248 (1913), the Comptroller of the Treasury considered the argument that was usually presented in every case-that the cards were to be used for official business purposes. Nonetheless, business or calling cards were considered more a matter of personal convenience than necessity. Therefore, the Comptroller advised federal agencies that the cost of business cards is a personal expense and, therefore, is not chargeable to public funds.155. In more recent years, the Comptroller General applied the long-standing prohibition of the use of appropriated funds for: reimbursement of an employee of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who had purchased business cards at his own expense (B-195036, July 11, 1979); purchase of a Forest Service public affairs officer’s “identification cards,” since the cards were to be used for the same purposes as traditional business cards (68 Comp. Gen. 467 (1989)); and payment for “cards of introduction” (B-149151, July 20, 1962).155
GAO Comp Gen Decision: B-280759 November 5, 1998
Mr. Jerome J. Markiewicz Chief, Fiscal Management Division and Administrative Support 1206 Stanley Rd. Ft. Sam Houston, TX 78234-5037
Dear Mr Markiewicz:
In your letter of August 5, 1998, you asked for informal advice concerning the use of Operation and Maintenance, Army, funds (O&M) to purchase business cards. Your need for advice stems from a request for business cards for civilian personnel specialists of the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC or Center). CPAC is the Fort Sam Houston representative of the Department of the Army centralized Civilian Personnel Operating Center serving the southwestern United States. The primary responsibility of CPAC is to act as a liaison between Army employing units and their employees, to provide advice and assistance to employers and employees, and to forward personnel actions and related documents to the Army's centralized center. The civilian personnel specialists will use the business cards to provide the Center’s customer an accurate reference to the specialist providing assistance and a precise electronic address for contacting the specialist--“a critical element in electronic correspondence, since neither phones nor electronic mail (e-mail) can redirect inaccurate deliveries.”
As you point out, there has been a long history of Comptroller General decisions holding that appropriated funds may not be used to purchase business cards except in limited circumstances. See, e.g., 68 Comp. Gen. 467 (1989); 41 Comp. Gen. 529 (1962); 12 Comp. Gen. 565 (1933). These decisions have been grounded on a narrow, if not an incorrect, understanding of the function and use of business cards. Because of this, and notwithstanding the valuable information that business cards convey about an officer’s or employee’s office, these cards have been viewed as a personal, not an official expense. I believe, however, that if this matter is analyzed from a “necessary expense” perspective, a more logical and legally defensible conclusion results.
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Department of Justice (DOJ), recently advised the General Counsel of the General Services Administration (GSA) that GSA may use its appropriations to obtain business cards for suitable mission-related use by GSA employees. Memorandum for Emily C. Hewitt, General Counsel, GSA, from Richard L. Shiffrin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OLC, DOJ, August 11, 1997. OLC applied GAO’s “necessary expense” analysis and concluded that “an agency head may reasonably determine that the appropriate use of business cards by agency employees who deal with outside organizations will further the agency’s statutory mission and therefore constitutes a proper expenditure from its general appropriations.“
I agree with OLC”s application of our “necessary expense” analysis to determine the availability of appropriated funds to obtain business cards for government employees who regularly deal with the public or organizations outside their immediate office. Based on the representations made in your letter, a “necessary expense” analysis would appear to support the conclusion that the purchase of business cards by CPAC is a proper use of Army O&M appropriations. Accordingly, we would not object if the Secretary of the Army, or his delegate, concludes that purchase of business cards for use by CPAC civilian personnel specialists is a “necessary expense” of the Army O&M account. I trust that this position makes it unnecessary to address the specific questions you posed in your letter.
Gary L. Kepplinger Associate General Counsel
I will assume that your question is whether or not this is a valid charge to current year funding rather than having to wait until funds are available for 2012. This is addressed in the GAO Principles of Appropriation Law (Redbook) and Comp Gen (CG) decisions. I have included some of this information. You will need to determine whether or not the training request fits into the exception and may be paid with 2011 funds. In the CG decision below, please read this fully as it is an example of the agency not following the exception as it is stated in the Redbook. Volume I, Part B. The Bona Fide Needs Rule, Chapter 5 (pg 5-27) of the GAO Redbook, provides guidance on questions of time. The following excerpt explains that you could use FY11 funds for the course starting early in FY12. Training tends to be nonseverable. Thus, where a training obligation is incurred in one fiscal year, the entire cost is chargeable to that year, regardless of the fact that performance may extend into the following year. B-233243, Aug. 3, 1989; B-213141-O.M., Mar. 29, 1984. In 70 Comp. Gen. 296 (1991), training that began on the first day of fiscal year 1990 was held chargeable to 1989 appropriations where the training had been identified as a need for 1989, scheduling was beyond the agency’s control, and the time between procurement and performance was not excessive. If some particular training were severable (it is not entirely clear when this might be the case), the contract could not cross fiscal year lines and payment would have to be apportioned between the fiscal years in which the training is actually conducted. See 34 Comp. Gen. 432 (1955).
In a recent GAO CG decision, the opinion reiterated both the general rule and the exception that appear in the GAO Principles of Appropriations Law. Please note that in this decision, the agency did not properly follow the rule. Following is an excerpt: …the relevant date to ascertain whether the training is a bona fide need of a particular fiscal year is the date that the training is delivered, not the date upon which the agency made the decision to enroll its staff in the training. This is because generally, when an agency enters into a contract in one fiscal year for services that will not be performed until the succeeding fiscal year, the agency may not charge the first fiscal year’s appropriation with the cost of the contract. B-235086, Apr. 24, 1991. If an agency decides to enroll its staff for training that is delivered during the succeeding fiscal year, the training is a bona fide need of the expiring fiscal year only if the training provider requires the agency to register during the expiring fiscal year, the date offered is the only one available, and the time between registration and the training is not excessive…The link for additional research on the GAO Comp Gen decisions is http://www.gao.gov/legal/lawresources/resources.html.
5. OFP Accounting Policy: Policies and Procedures: Volume XII - Debt Management states: 010404 Delegation of Authority. A. The Chief of the Finance Activity will ensure appropriate procedures are followed in accordance with this chapter for administrating the termination of collection action and close-out of debts. The Chief of the Finance Activity may terminate collection action and close out a debt that has been waived, compromised, determined to lack legal merit, referred for enforced collection or discharged in bankruptcy. Termination and close-out may also occur where the debt cannot be offset or it involves a debtor who is deceased. B. For debts up to $40,000 and not in the 010404A categories above, the Chief of the Finance Activity, or the Director of the Debt Management Center located in St. Paul, MN, has the authority to terminate debt collection action and the remaining debt. The Chief of the Finance Activity is named as the person delegated with the authority to write-off bills up to $40,000. At our activity, our Chief of the Finance Activity is our Deputy Finance Manager. Also, we have two AFOs and a Chief of Accounting who is at the same pay-grade as our AFOs. All three individuals are at the same location and are responsible for an accounting department that supports two stations. Who is this regulation referring too? Does this regulation grant authorization to the AFOs and the Chief of Accounting to terminate and write-off bills? If not, may this authority be re-delegated and who may re-delegate this authority to terminate and write-off bills under $40,000?
OFP, Cost & Debt Management Service Response: In response to your policy inquiry below, Vol. XII, Chapter1i, Paragraph 010404B specifically states that for debts up to $40,000, the Chief of the Finance Activity has the authority to terminate debt collection action and the remaining debt. There is nothing in Paragraph 010404B that authorizes redelegation of this authority below the Chief of the Finance Activity. Therefore, if the Deputy Finance Manager is designated as the Chief of the Finance Activity at the Hines VAMC, then that person is delegated termination authority and that authority cannot be re-delegated. Thank You.