MRP Appropriations Law Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

MRP Appropriations Law Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

This website provides a basic foundation for the proper and legal use of federal government appropriations.  Appropriated funds include, but are not limited to; annual or multiple year, no-year appropriations, trust funds, user fees, cooperative funds; and revolving funds.  The information has been obtained from the Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, commonly known as the “GAO Red Book.”

The information is presented in a question and answer format.  We have focused our attention on the more common questions in the areas of procurement, travel, agreement, government purchase card, and appropriations law that affect MRP (APHIS, AMS, and GIPSA).  The questions have already been researched and the answers are provided.  We have provided Comptroller General Decision citations and judicial decisions to support the answers.  As new questions arise, we plan to add them the existing list.  This website should be used as a general guide and starting point as it is impossible to cover all aspects and situations of appropriations law.

Our intent is to provide a consistent approach in describing existing authorities to guide employees to ensure appropriations are spent properly.  As changes in statues or federal and Comptroller General case law occurs, we will update the questions accordingly.  If the information contained here does not meet your needs, please contact the related MRPBS unit for more information regarding your spending decision. Please submit questions relating to the use of appropriated funds to the MRP.Appropriations.Law.QA@aphis.usda.gov Email Box. The MRPBS Financial Management Division Subject Matter Experts will be happy to assist.

  1. Can we purchase greeting cards (i.e., thank you cards, etc.)?
  2. Can we purchase holiday decorations for the office?
  3. Can we purchase business cards?
  4. Can we purchase bottled water?
  5. Can we charge a fee to defray the cost of providing food at government-sponsored conferences?
  6. Can we make an advance payment?
  7. Can we purchase personal convenience items?
  8. Can we purchase hand sanitizers?
  9. Can we purchase appliances (i.e., refrigerator, microwave ovens, coffee makers, etc.)?
  10. Can we purchase heaters, fans, or air conditioning units?
  11. Can we purchase planners and inserts?
  12. Can we pay for a membership fee?
  13. When is it permissible to use current year money to pay for a training course in the next fiscal year?
  14. Can I sign up for 12 months of services in August, and use current year funds for a full year?
  15. How is subscription renewals paid when crossing the fiscal year?
  16. Can we pay for medical expenses (flu shots, etc)?
  17. Can we pay for professional liability insurance?
  18. Can we pay for federal personnel travel in this fiscal year with next fiscal year funds?
  19. Can we cross fiscal years when entering into interagency agreements with annual appropriations?
  20. What if work for which annual funding is provided under an interagency agreement extends beyond the end of the fiscal year?
  21. Is it a legal obligation to obligate one-year funds by 09/30 if the performing agency/organization signed the agreement, but not the requesting agency/organization?
  22. Is it a legal obligation to obligate one-year funds by 9/30 if the requesting agency/organization signed the agreement, but not the performing agency/organization?
  23. Is it a legal obligation to obligate one-year funds by 9/30 if the performing agency/organization began doing the work prior to 9/30, but the agreement has not been signed by anyone?
  24. When an employee details for more than 30 days to another USDA Agency, do we always have to require full reimbursement for salary and expenses under General Provision Section 709?
  25. Can the government funds be used to pay a fine?
  26. Can an individual on official travel utilize their own personal funds to purchase a rental car, and pay for the entire transaction, including gasoline, with their personal funds?
  27. Can we purchase clothing or apparel for employees?
  28. Can we purchase air purifiers for the office?
  29. Can we purchase e-Books for training materials i.e., digital books, magazines, etc.?
  30. Can we purchase paper towels and facial tissues?
  31. Can we accept free food offer from the hotel as part of the conference room rental?
  32. Can we purchase electrolyte drinks?
  33. Can we procure non-monetary recognition or promotional items?
  34. Is the TSA Pre-Check fee considered a reimbursable expense for Federal Government travel?

1. Can we purchase greeting cards (i.e., thank you cards, etc.)?

Answer

No.  The cost of greeting cards is a personal expense.  Government funds may not be used. 


2. Can we purchase holiday decorations for the office?

Answer

It depends.  “Seasonal decorations are now permissible, where the purchase is consistent with work-related objectives [such as enhancement of morale], agency or other applicable regulations, and the agency mission, and is not primarily for the personal convenience or satisfactions of a government employee” (Appropriations Law, Vol. I, Jan. 2004, p. 263).  The person in charge must make the determination if such decorations are necessary and ensure that the items displayed will not be offensive to anyone.  We should be appropriately sensitive with respect to the display of religious symbols.


3. Can we purchase business cards?

Answer

Yes.  The cost of business cards is a personal expense; however, we may purchase them only for employees who regularly deal with the public or organizations outside their immediate office.  The person in charge makes the determination of who in the office should be receiving business cards.  The primary required source for business cards is the Riverdale Print Shop (MRPBS, ASD Printing, Distribution, Mail and Copier Solutions Branch in Riverdale MD).  If they are unable to fulfill your request, the next required source is AbilityOne (formerly JWOD) program. 

Riverdale Print Shop orders can be placed on-line here (Employees Only) Employees Only

AbilityOne orders can be placed through Envision


4. Can we purchase bottled water?

Answer

It depends.  Bottled water is a personal convenience item and cannot be paid with government funds.  However, there is some flexibility given specific circumstances or conditions, agencies may allow the use of government funds to purchase bottled water.  A justification must be submitted to the Local Agency Program Coordinators (LAPC) for consideration and approval.  The justification needs to include the following information:

  • Reason and circumstance for providing bottled drinking water to staff.
  • Is there a source for drinking water in the area
  • A description of the special non-ordinary climate conditions that will affect the performance and health of staff in the performance of their assigned project or task.
  • Effect of assigned tasks to employees, which makes it necessary to provide water including length of time (i.e., number of days per week and for how long).
  • Number of employees involved with the project that will consume water.
  • The cost of bottled water for the duration of a particular event, and how many bottles of water will be procured.
  • What kind of internal controls are in place locally to protect the agency against potential fraud, waste, and misuse of government funds associated with the purchase
  • Who will be procuring bottled water, if the purchase card will be used

5. Can we charge a fee to defray the cost of providing food at government-sponsored conferences?

Answer

It depends.  We cannot charge the attendees conference fees to cover for related expenses such as food and hotel related charges without specific statutory authority.  Even if we have authority to charge a fee, we cannot retain and use the money collected without additional statutory authority (GAO Decision, B-300826, March 2005).  If the fees are collected, they need to be remitted to the U.S. Treasury General Fund.  When fees are collected and used to defray the cost of providing food at conferences, an unauthorized augmentation of the agency’s appropriations occurred. 

There are two exceptions:

1). If an event planner organization collects fees from attendees for meals, it would not violate the Miscellaneous Receipts Statue.  Note:  Contractors cannot collect fees on behalf of the government. 

2). We are authorized to collect fees to cover the total costs of providing technical assistance, goods, or services requested by States, other political subdivisions, domestic and international organizations, foreign governments, or individuals, provided that the fees are structured based on the technical assistance, goods, or services provided to the entity by the agency, and such fees shall be credited to this account to remain available until expended, without further appropriation (National Institute of Food and Agriculture, The Budget for Fiscal Year 2011).


6. Can we make an advance payment?

Answer

It depends.  The US Government does not pay in advance of receipt of goods or services.  However, there are some exceptions to the rule.  Advance payments may be made for subscriptions, registration fees, and training.


7. Can we purchase personal convenience items?

Answer

It depends.  Expenses for items government employees desire and are beyond what is standard or reasonable furnishings or equipment are considered personal expenses and are not chargeable to government funds.  Below is the rule on personal expenses and furnishings, 3 Comp. Gen. 433(1924):

"Personal furnishings are not authorized to be purchased under appropriations in the absence of specific provision therefore contained in such appropriations or other acts, if such furnishings are for the personal convenience comfort, or protection of such employees, or are such as to be reasonably required as a part of the usual and necessary equipment for the work on which they are engaged or for which they are employed" (Appropriations Law, Vol. I, Jan. 2004, p. 242-243).

A justification needs to be submitted to the MRP.Appropriations.Law.QA@aphis.usda.gov email box for consideration and approval.  Each request needs to be handled and considered on a case-by-case basis.


8. Can we purchase hand sanitizers?

Answer

It depends.  Hand sanitizers can be procured as a necessary precaution to prevent the spread of diseases or viruses such as the flu.  They need to be placed in a common area for all employees to use.  Do not purchase personal size bottles because they are considered to be a personal expense. For example, we have allowed some offices to procure hand sanitizers for general use to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus.

A request to procure hand sanitizers needs to be submitted to the MRP.Appropriations.Law.QA@aphis.usda.gov email box for consideration and approval.  The request will be handled and considered on a case-by-case basis.


9. Can we purchase appliances (i.e., refrigerator, microwave ovens, coffee makers, etc.)?

Answer

It depends.  A justification needs to be submitted to the MRP.Appropriations.Law.QA@aphis.usda.gov email box for consideration and approval.  The justification needs to include the following information:

1. Describe the appliance to be purchased and its intended use and location.

2. Demonstrate an on-going need and usefulness of such appliance for the office in light of both operational benefits (e.g., improves efficiency of agency operations (i.e. workplace safety, security, or increased employee productivity, health, and morale). The appliance is for an office locations where there is a central kitchen facility or common area authorized for use by multiple employees;

3. The request meets Energy Star or Energy Saver requirements and is obtained through a GSA contract source.  Energy Star qualifies appliances that incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 - 50% less energy and water than standard models, and are therefore less expensive to operate and maintain. For further information on Energy Star products, access the website at www.energystar.gov; and

4. Use of government funds is approved by a headquarters administrative officer or resource manager for the acquisition of the appliance. The acquisition is authorized by the Facility Manager when applicable, and fully complies with the preceding criteria. Government funds "must not" be prohibited by law, or funding provided for elsewhere for the purchase of microwaves, and refrigerators.  Government funds "must not" be used to purchase coffee, tea, or filters (i.e., coffee or water filters, etc.). These costs will be the responsibility of the user(s), as is the cost associated with cleanup.

5.  Specify the payment method (i.e., IAS, Purchase Card etc.).  If the purchase card will be used, please provide the cardholder's name


10. Can we purchase heaters, fans, or air conditioning units?

Answer

It depends.  Please submit your justification to procure heaters, fans, or air conditioning units to the MRP.Appropriations.Law.QA@aphis.usda.gov email box for consideration and approval.  The Subject Matter Expert will coordinate with Acquisition and Asset Management Division (AAMD), Realty and Facility Manager to make the determination whether heaters, fans, or air conditioning units can be procured and are allowed in the facility.  There are steps that we need to follow to ensure that the right parties are consulted. 


11. Can we purchase planners and inserts?

Answer

Yes.  However, we are required to procure planners and inserts from the Government required sources.  The USDA, Office of Procurement and Property Management (OPPM) has issued the Agriculture Acquisition Regulation (AGAR) Advisory No. 97B, USDA Mandatory Sources for Office Supplies to reinstate the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) contracts. This FSSI initiative is called “Office Supplies OS3.” Under this initiative, the General Services Administration, through the FSSI has awarded contracts to 24 vendors (23 of them went to small business).  

If the mandatory USDA sources (GSA FSSI OS3 vendors) do not have AbilityOne or Daymax Planners in stock, they are allowed to provide another brand.   The FSSI OS3 vendors have the terms and agreements in their contracts to always provide AbilityOne planners before other brands.  It is the Purchaser or Cardholder responsibility to document the file and provide documentation for audit purposes to support the item purchased (i.e., why the item was not in stock and why a different brand was purchased, etc.). 

For more information, please refer to the the Purchase Card SmartPay2 website (Employees Only Employees Only - AXOL 10-02 has been canceled)


12. Can we pay for a membership fee?

Answer

It depends. A membership fee may not be paid in an individual’s name, regardless of the resulting benefit to the agency. However, a membership in the agency/organization’s name can be paid upon an administrative determination that the expenditure would further the authorized activities of the agency; and this determination is not affected by any incidental benefits that may accrue to individual employees. If there is not demonstrable benefit to the agency, the membership expense is improper. 

For example, the agency, at its discretion, may pay for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) membership in its own name, “if such membership is of primary benefit to the government and the agency determines that such membership is necessary to carry out its statutory function” (GAO Decision, B-302548, August 2004, ¶ 19).

In accordance to 5 U.S.C 5757(a), “federal agencies are authorized to use appropriated funds to pay an employee’s expenses to obtain professional credentials.  However, an agency may pay only the expenses required to obtain the license or official certification needed to practice a particular profession, including licensing fees and examinations to obtain credentials.  Accordingly, section 5757(a) does not authorize the agency to pay for an employee’s membership in a professional association unless membership is a prerequisite to obtaining the professional license or certification.  Under 5 U.S.C. 5946 payment for voluntary memberships in organizations of already-credentialed professionals is prohibited; and section 5757(a) does not provide any authority to pay such fees” (GAO Decision, B-302548, August 2004, ¶ 1).

Note, a payment of a membership fee at the beginning of the period of membership is not considered an advance payment.


13. When is it permissible to use current year money to pay for a training course in the next fiscal year?

Answer

It depends.  When there is a bona-fide need this year and no other classes are available until the next fiscal year.  Your agency must not be in control of the training schedule, and the time interval between the sign-up date and the first day of the training may not be excessive. Typically this means the training occurs in the first quarter of the new fiscal year. This will depend on the facts and circumstances, and on the agency’s interpretation of the term “not excessive” (GAO Decision, B-238940, February 1991).


14. Can I sign up for 12 months of services in August, and use current year funds for a full year?

Answer

Yes.  Severable services (one year is the limit for these services):  The agency is allowed to sign up for 12 months of service in August using current year funding for the whole contract. Reference the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act.

Non-severable services (typically non-severable services cover more than 12 months):  It is appropriate to use current year funds for a contract for non-severable services with a single product even if that product will not be completed within 12 months. An example is a two-year research study where the final product will be received at the end of the two years.


15. How is subscription renewals paid when crossing the fiscal year?

Answer

It depends.  This needs to be determined if the bona fide needs rule is met. Funds may be obligated in the prior fiscal year for subscriptions that are starting right away in the next fiscal year.  However, if the renewal is starting in December, for example, there would be no need to sign up in September (GAO Decision, B-309530, September 2007).


16. Can we pay for medical expenses (flu shots, etc)?

Answer

It depends.  The rule for medical care is that except for illness directly resulting from the nature of the employment, medical care and treatment are personal to the employee and payment may not be made from appropriated funds.  See 22 Comp. Gen 32 (1942).  The exceptions to this are primary physical examinations and inoculations deemed in the government’s best interest to do so, or offered by Federal Occupation Health (FOH) (for example, a flu shot).


17. Can we pay for professional liability insurance?

Answer

Yes.  Professional Liability Insurance (PLI) provides coverage for damages and legal expenses incurred by employees who are sued personally for actions taken which relate to their official duties.  Employees can receive 50 percent of the annual cost associated with PLI to include administrative fees if their position meets the criteria for eligibility.  See Directive 4060.2 for eligibility verification. 


18. Can we pay for federal personnel travel in this fiscal year with next fiscal year funds

Answer

No.  According to the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR), travel must be charged to the fiscal year of the date the travel begins.  Example 1 – a traveler departs on September 28, 2012 and returns on October 7, 2012.  The cost of the airfare is charged on the first day of travel September 28, 2012 (using fiscal year 2012 funds).  Since the Per Diem is charged daily, it can be split by the days of travel in each fiscal year.  The rental car is charged on the last day of travel 10/7/2012 (using fiscal year 2013 funds).  Example 2 – In September 2012, an employee signs up for a training class to be taken in November, 2012 (all other rules allowing such an obligation are met – see Question 12).  The class tuition may be paid with fiscal year 2012 funds; however, the travel needs to be paid when the travel occurs in November, 2012 (using fiscal year 2013 funds).


19. Can we cross fiscal years when entering into interagency agreements with annual appropriations?

Answer

No.  APHIS enters into interagency agreements under the Economy Act.  Thus, when charging an annual appropriation, the period of performance of the performing agency must be within the same fiscal year as the funds were made available by Congress.   The period of performance in this context means that the performing agency must have the funds obligated by the end of the fiscal year for which the funds were appropriated to the requesting agency.  Any funds remaining unobligated must be returned to APHIS at the end of the period of performance.


20. What if work for which annual funding is provided under an interagency agreement extends beyond the end of the fiscal year?

Answer

It depends.  This can occur in a couple of circumstances, namely, the performing agency (1) has special authority to carry the requesting agency's funds into the following fiscal year to obligate it or (2)  The performing agency obligated the funds by issuing a contract or agreement with a period of performance beyond the fiscal year end.  In the former circumstance, the agency must cite the authority on the agreement that permits a carryover of another agency's single year funds (it should be verified by the requesting agency).  In the latter situation, the Statement of Work should clearly specify the period of performance by the contractor or grantee of the performing agency, and the obligating document should clearly reflect the obligation period for the funds.  This clarity is imperative in avoiding statutory violations.


21. Is it a legal obligation to obligate one-year funds by 09/30 if the performing agency/organization signed the agreement, but not the requesting agency/organization?

Answer

No.  For Voluntary Interagency Agreements, funds can be obligated when both the performing agency and requesting agency signed.  The obligation must happen before the appropriation lapsed, at midnight of 9/30.  Per OGC, “in order to record the obligation, there must be ‘a binding agreement’ in writing that is “executed” before the end of the period of availability of the appropriation” (email dated 10/22/10).  The rules are slightly different if the interagency agreement is “required by law.”

For grants and cooperative agreements, the legal standard for recording obligations is 31 U.S.C. section 1501(a)(5).  


22. Is it a legal obligation to obligate one-year funds by 9/30 if the requesting agency/organization signed the agreement, but not the performing agency/organization?

Answer

Please see question#22 for answers.  


23. Is it a legal obligation to obligate one-year funds by 9/30 if the performing agency/organization began doing the work prior to 9/30, but the agreement has not been signed by anyone?

Answer

No.  For Voluntary Interagency Agreements, if the agreement has not been signed, there is no obligation regardless of how much work is performed.  Per OGC, “the commencement of work prior to execution of a formal contract does not create an obligation, although in rare circumstances the commencement of work could be evidence that there has been a valid offer and acceptance.  It all depends n the facts” (email dated 10/22/10).


24. When an employee details for more than 30 days to another USDA Agency, do we always have to require full reimbursement for salary and expenses under General Provision Section 709?

Answer

It depends.  This provision has been in the Appropriations Acts for many years.  Each situation requires individual consideration.  There are times when we must accept reimbursement for APHIS employees on detail because not doing so would constitute an improper use of our appropriations (under the purpose theory) because we would be using APHIS appropriations for an unintended  purpose (the other agencies’ Mission).  There are also times when we have to detail someone to another agency in support of APHIS’ mission/best interest.  In this case, it would not require reimbursement because our appropriation supports this work (again back to the purpose theory). 

For example: An APHIS employee could be in a training program that goes on detail to the other agency as a developmental detail in support of the training program.  In this instance, APHIS would not seek reimbursement because we are supporting our mission by developing this employee’s skills.

At times, APHIS and other agencies work together on mutually beneficial projects.  For instance, Animal Care (AC) developed pet rescue/emergency response skills by shadowing FEMA area directors working in response situations.  While our APHIS, AC employees were responding to an event outside of our mission, it was still mutually beneficial because we were gaining the skill set in order to be prepared for when we would be called for the pet rescue missions.  In this instance, APHIS would not seek reimbursement because we are supporting our mission, even though we were also supporting FEMA’s mission.  However, if the level of APHIS; effort was high and time away from APHIS was a long period to benefit FEMA, a case would be made to seek reimbursement.  It has to be determined by the agency, and it depends on the circumstance and the level of effort our APHIS employees performed while learning.  When our support of level is high, APHIS would seek reimbursement because we are supporting their mission to a higher degree.

In summary, each time this question is asked, you must consider all the surrounding circumstances and programmatic documentation to support the decision to obtain full reimbursement or not.  The key determining question is whether the work being performed by the APHIS employee falls within APHIS’ mission. 


25. Can the government funds be used to pay a fine?

Answer

It depends.  In general, “no authority exists for the federal government to pay fines and penalties incurred as a result of its activities or those of its employees (Appropriations Law, Vol. I, Jan. 2004, p. 140).  In the most common situation, a fine is assessed against an individual employee for some actions he or she took in the course of performing official duties such as traffic violations.  The use of government funds is not available to pay the fine or reimburse the employee.

Other situations that the government funds cannot be used to pay a fine:

We cannot use government funds to pay for a parking ticket.  If the employee received a parking ticket because he or she made the decision to park a government vehicle at a “no parking” zone, then the employee chose to violate the law; therefore, it is the employee’s personal responsibility to pay for the fine.

If the employee received a fine for neglecting to turn in his or her airport badge, it is the employee’s responsibility to pay for the fine.


26. Can an individual on official travel utilize their own personal funds to purchase a rental car, and pay for the entire transaction, including gasoline, with their personal funds? 

Answer

Yes.  The vehicle is then considered a Personal Owned Vehicle (POV).  Considering that we cannot and do not control an individual’s personal expenditures from their personal funds, it would be an individual decision to make.  If the individual rents a vehicle with his or her personal funds, can he or she transport others in an official capacity?  Yes, he or she can transport others within the scope of employment and during the time he is using his POV to conduct official business by transporting other employees to and from the hotel and meeting, damage to the others, himself and others property  would be covered just as if he was back at his work station. But any damage to the vehicle would not be covered by the government, it would be covered by the agreement between the employee and the rental car company.  If not, under what authority do we prohibit this action? NA

If he can, indeed, transport others, what are the ramifications for the Government in the event of an auto accident? See Above. Also, at any time the vehicle is being used for activity outside the scope of employment such as sight-seeing, any damage would not be covered by the government.


27. Can we purchase clothing or apparel for employees?

Answer

It depends.  Employees who are required by statute, regulation, or agency directive to wear a uniform can be provided with uniforms or be provided a uniform allowance as specific statutory authority exists.  Uniform means a specified article or articles of clothing such as shoes, boots, hats, shirts, slacks, skirts, or outerwear an employee is required by an agency to wear to provide a distinctive and easily identifiable appearance in performing his or her job.  A “uniform” does not include protective equipment required for the employee's safety under 5 U.S.C. 7903 or normal business or work attire purchased at the employee’s discretion.  (CFR 591.103 Subpart A)  Government agencies are limited to a maximum of $400 per year, per uniformed employee, or at an amount adjusted by the Office of Personnel Management. (5 USC 5901-5902.

Generally, clothing is considered a personal expense and use of government funds are not allowed for non-uniform clothing purchases.  However, there are some exceptions to the rule.  The purchasing of clothing shall be covered by one of the statues listed below; otherwise, the use of government funds is not authorized.

  • 5 U.S.C. section 5901 (uniform allowances)
  • 5 U.S.C. section 7903 (special clothing for hazardous occupations)
  • 29 U.S.C. section 668 (protective clothing under OSHA).

 

5 U.S.C. section 5901 (uniform allowances) - The MRP Directive 4591.1 provides general rulings of the uniform allowance policy at the agency level.  Each program shall develop a written policy to identify which employees are required to wear uniforms and what items of clothing will be required.  The policy is used as a reference and supporting documentation.  

5 U.S.C. section 7903 (special clothing for hazardous occupations) – in order for an item to be authorized by this statue, the following must be met: 1) the item must be “special” and not part of the ordinary and usual furnishings an employee may reasonably be expected to provide for himself or herself; 2) the item must be for the benefit of the government, that is, essential to the safe and successful accomplishment of the work, and not solely for the protection of the employee; and 3) the employee must be engaged in hazardous duty (Appropriations Law, Vol. I, p. 4-266/267).

29 U.S.C. section 668 (protective clothing under OSHA) – Under this section, protective clothing may be furnished by the government if the agency determines that it is necessary under OSHA and its implementing regulations. 57 Comp. Gen. 379, 382 (1978); B-187507, Dec. 23, 1976.  The programs shall conduct a job-hazard analysis/evaluation to determine if the employees are required to wear protective clothing under OSHA’s requirements.  A written policy is required to support the procurement of PPE items.  “29 C.F.R. Sec. 1910.132(a) (2001). The standard requires the employer (here, ERDC) to assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present and, as necessary, to make available appropriate protective equipment to affected employees. Id. Sec. 1910.132(d). While this standard does not directly address the hazards of cold weather or establish specific standards for protection against the elements, we have held that weather-related protective clothing, such as swamp boots to work in a jungle environment or ski boots for Forest Service snow rangers, may be furnished by the government if the agency head determines the clothing to be necessary under OSHA and its implementing regulations and standards. 51 Comp. Gen. at 448; B-187507, Dec. 23, 1976. Similarly, we would not object to an agency's use of appropriated funds to furnish insulated coveralls so long as the agency determines the coveralls to be necessary under OSHA” (B-288828, dated 10/3/2002).

Here are some examples of allowable and disallowable expenses:

B-187507 Protective footwear for DEA agents temporarily assigned to jungle environments.  Footwear remains the property of agency.  Reasoning:  DEA determined footwear was necessary to protect employees per OSHA standards. Allowable
B-230820 Down-filled parkas for employees on temporary assignment to Alaska in winter. 
Reasoning: employees are not expected to own clothing for extreme environments considered to be hazardous.
Allowable
B-193104 Raincoats, umbrellas and rubber boots for employees in frequently inclement weather.  Reasoning: raingear items are not special equipment but are personal items that the employee must furnish. Disallowable
B-198823 Clothing purchased while on TDY as a result of unanticipated extensions of travel.  Clothing is considered a personal expense; employee retains clothing an receives primary benefit. Disallowable
B-234091 Running shoes for Department of Energy nuclear materials couriers.  Reasoning: considered a personal expense.  Couriers were required to pass quarterly fitness tests. Disallowable
B-251189 Business suits for agency chauffeurs.   Suits do not qualify as uniforms; government employees are responsible for reporting to duty properly attired according to the requirements of their position. Disallowable
B-288828 Insulated coveralls for employees who work outside in cold temperatures.  Reasoning:  employees could reasonably be expected to own climate-appropriate clothing.  Worksite provides heated shelters and frequent breaks so work was not considered to be hazardous. Disallowable

28. Can we purchase air purifiers for the office?

Answer

It depends.  The General Accountability Office (GAO) has taken the position that appropriated funds may not be used to provide air purifiers for the private office of an individual employee unless the person’s hypersensitivities qualify the person as handicapped under the Rehabilitation Act (B-213666, July 26, 1984).  However, air purifiers for a common area that benefit all employees or members of the public that use the room do not violate the prohibition.

The below examples were taken from Principles of Federal Appropriations Law: Third Edition, Volume I, p. 4-253:

“The 1980s saw a veritable flood of cases involving the purchase of air purifiers (“smoke eaters”) as the campaign against smoking became a cause celebre.  The rules, distilled from several decisions, [Footnote 371] are as follows:

  • Appropriated funds are not available to purchase air purifiers for the private office of an employee who objects to tobacco smoke unless the employee’s hypersensitivity to smoke qualifies him or her as handicapped under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • Air purifiers may be purchased for “common areas” such as reading rooms.

29. Can we purchase e-Books for training materials i.e., digital books, magazines, etc.?

Answer

We can pay for e-books, but they need to be included on the SF-182, Authorization, Agreement and Certification of Training form as an authorized expenditure for the training.  The form shall be signed by the authorized official.  Books and training materials paid for using government funds are considered a government property and need to be kept in the office.


30. Can we purchase paper towels and facial tissues?

Answer

It depends.  As a general rule, without specific statutory authority, government funds are not available for personal expenses. Expenses for items government employees desire and are beyond what is standard or reasonable furnishings or equipment are considered personal expenses and are not chargeable to government funds.

"Personal furnishings are not authorized to be purchased under appropriations in the absence of specific provision therefore contained in such appropriations or other acts, if such furnishings are for the personal convenience comfort, or protection of such employees, or are such as to be reasonably required as a part of the usual and necessary equipment for the work on which they are engaged or for which they are employed" (Appropriations Law, Vol. I, Jan. 2004, p. 242-243).

Paper Towels:  we can use government funds to purchase paper towels only when these items are purchased for sanitation purposes and kept in common bathroom and kitchen areas (and not already being provided in a full-service lease.).  These purchases may be justifiable in the interest of cutting down on the spread of germs, keeping employees healthy, and therefore promoting the agency’s productivity.

Facial Tissues are considered a personal convenience item and cannot be purchased.  A justification needs to be submitted to the MRP.Appropriations.Law.QA@aphis.usda.gov email box for consideration and approval.


31. Can we accept free food offer from the hotel as part of the conference room rental?

Answer

Yes, if it meets the criteria outlined below.

We can pay for the “all-inclusive facility rental fee even though the fee resulted in food being served” (GAO Decision B-281063, para 8) under the following conditions:

  • the facility meets the meeting/training needs;
  • the cost of the facility fee is reasonable and cost effective;
  • the cost of the facility is not negotiable and competitively priced to those that did not include food;
  • the facility fee would remain the same whether or not the employees eat the food because the meals will be furnished at no additional cost to the government;
  • it would serve no purpose to 1) reject the offer, 2) reject the food at no savings to the government, and 3) have employees reimburse the government even though it incurred no additional cost for the food;
  • the meeting will not be scheduled at an outside facility simply to provide food or refreshments; and
  • the rental fee will not be negotiated with the prerequisite that food be furnished and then be computed into the overall cost to appear that the offer is free of charge.

32. Can we purchase electrolyte drinks?

Answer

No.  We are not authorized to use government funds to purchase electrolyte drinks because they are considered a personal convenience item.  Providing potable water is arguably required under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and is permissible to purchase with government funds under the exceptions recognized by the Comptroller General decisions.  Electrolyte drinks are beyond what is standard or reasonable to furnish and therefore cannot be paid for using public funds.


33. Can we procure non-monetary recognition or promotional items?

Answer

It depends.  The USDA Office of Procurement and Property Management (OPPM), Charge Card Service Center (CCSC) has issued a policy requiring agencies to eliminate unnecessary spending on non-monetary recognition and promotional items such as plaques, clothing, commemorative items, as well as any other promotional items to support the President Executive Order 13589, Promoting Efficient Spending.  To comply with the EO and USDA policies, each program shall ensure non-monetary recognition and promotional items are procured within the guidelines identified below.

Non-monetary Recognition Items - Each program shall ensure non-monetary items are procured in accordance with the USDA and Agency’s Awards and Recognition Directives and is responsible and accountable for tracking their purchases.

USDA Employee Awards and Recognition Program Directive (PDF)

APHIS and AMS Directive (PDF)

GIPSA Directive (PDF)

Promotional Items – Promotional items can be procured if the distribution of the items will help further the mission of the agency and contribute materially to the effective accomplishment of an authorized function. We shall give serious consideration on how the message could be conveyed through less expense means to carry out the President’s Executive Order.  While EO 13589 does not prohibit agencies from purchasing items where otherwise authorized, it directs agencies to limit such purchases, in particular where they are not cost-effective. 

Purchase of promotional items may be permissible when all of the following criteria are met:

  • The item is the most cost effective way to carry out the agency’s authorized function.
  • The item will be used for outreach activities, where the distribution of the item will benefit the government.  
  • The item must convey the message related to an authorized purpose or function of the agency.
  • The item(s) will not be used as gifts and souvenirs.  Under the necessary expense doctrine, we may not purchase items in the nature of gifts and souvenirs.
  • When the function can be carried out without using promotional items, then they are not constitute a necessary expense under the bona fide needs rule.
  • Shall obtain a pre-approval, in-writing, from the program’s authorized official.  Each program has designated a contact person to track promotional items purchases.
  • The item shall be printed with the organization name/log and  contact information (e.g., phone number, email address).

President Executive Order (EO) 13589

Section 1.  Policy.  My Administration is committed to cutting waste in Federal Government spending and identifying opportunities to promote efficient and effective spending.

Sec. 7.  Extraneous Promotional Items.  Agencies should limit the purchase of promotional items (e.g., plaques, clothing, and commemorative items), in particular where they are not cost-effective.

Examples of allowable and disallowable items:

1ST example, we cannot give $100 savings bonds as prizes for a potential recruit as part of the outreach program simply because we want to attract the interest of students for participating.

2ND example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) was permitted to purchase and distribute informational buttons and magnets inscribed with messages regarding indoor air quality at an EPA sponsored conference to promote public information and education concerning indoor air quality. 

3rd example, the National Weather Service (NWS) was not allowed to procure winter head gear to give out to participants in the Volunteer Observer Program of the NWS because there was no indication that NWS will fail to accomplish its statutory mission without distribution of the caps


34:  Is the TSA Pre-Check fee considered a reimbursable expense for Federal Government travel?

Answer

No.  According to the General Services Administration, Federal Travel Regulation Bulletin 08-05, the TSA Pre-Check fee is not a reimbursable expense.

References:

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