Relocation is a complex aspect of travel. The FTR requires agencies to establish policies on more than 50 separate issues; employees should refer to Part 302 of the FTR for detailed guidance and specific policy requirements pertaining to relocation and relocation allowances.
To ensure that relocation is in the best interest of the government, before authorizing a relocation allowance, agencies must have internal policies that determine:
How the agency will implement the governing policies
How the agency will determine when a relocation is in the best interest of the government
When the agency will allow a travel advance for relocation expenses
Who will authorize and approve relocation travel
Under what additional circumstances the agency will require an employee to sign a service agreement.
Who is required to sign a service agreement
How the agency will ensure that all relocating employees sign a duplicate reimbursement disclosure statement, which is then incorporated into their relocation service agreements.
FTR Subchapter B—Relocation Allowances, Part 302-3—Relocation by Specific Type, provides 11 tables that detail exactly which benefits are mandatory and which are optional for each type of employee relocation (see Appendix B).
Part 302 of the FTR is the controlling document regarding relocation. In addition, GSA has issued guidance documents based on established policies to assist employees regarding relocation and relocation allowances. Agency policy should be clear and should not conflict with Part 302 of the FTR under any circumstances. In the case of a discrepancy, Part 302 of the FTR takes precedence over any guidance document issued by GSA or any policy document issued by an agency.
For example, in CBCA 943-RELO, In the Matter of William P. McBee, Jr., and Judith L. Sammel (January 3, 2008), two National Security Agency (NSA) employees who are married to each other were transferred to a permanent duty station in Europe. In securing a permanent residence, the couple encountered a vast array of conflicting policies and procedures regarding their temporary quarters subsistence allowance (TQSA).
McBee and Sammel both reported for duty in Europe on July 7. NSA had assigned to them a permanent change of station sponsor, who advised that because housing in the area was “a real pain,” they should expect to spend about 60 days in temporary quarters before finding permanent housing. Following this advice, they signed an eight-week lease on an apartment, where they stayed from July 7 to September 1.
To locate a permanent residence, McBee and Sammel were told to use the services of an NSA housing officer. Beginning on July 18, the officer showed them three houses, two of which had inadequate parking facilities and one of which was rented by someone else immediately after they saw it. On July 24, the couple began searching on their own and found an apartment on August 1. Unfortunately, they could not sign a lease until the housing officer approved it, and he refused to sign the lease because he had not been involved in finding the apartment. Finally, on August 10, he approved the apartment. The couple then arranged to move in on September 1 to allow the landlord time to provide necessary carpet replacement and repainting. In total, the couple stayed in temporary quarters for 55 days.
Meanwhile, the couple had attempted, in vain, to determine the length of time they were eligible for TQSA. A summary of permanent change of station entitlements given to Sammel indicated that they were entitled to TQSA for the first 45 days.
However, a desk officer explained that the standard NSA allowance is up to 45 days, but can be extended for circumstances beyond the employee’s control. NSA documents were equally conflicting. A July 2003 housing directive from the NSA Europe office provides that employees are limited to 45 days TQSA “with the possibility of up to 10 additional days in certain situations.” A summer 2005 NSA publication called Global HR Post-its authorizes an initial 45 days of TQSA, not to exceed 60 days. The list goes on.
The couple requested TQSA for a period of 55 days. NSA reimbursed them for 45 days but refused to make payment for the additional 10 days. The couple appealed to the CBCA.
The CBCA summed up the situation: Going from most to least restrictive versions, the NSA policy might be 30 days, with a possible extension of 15 days; 45 days; 45 days, with a possible extension of 10 days; 45 days, with a possible extension of 15 days; 45 days, with a possible extension of unspecified length; and 45 days, with a possible extension of 75 days.
In reviewing the case, the CBCA attempted to determine the specifics of NSA’s TQSA policy. Under the Overseas Differentials and Allowances Act, agencies may pay employees who are stationed abroad a TQSA of 90 days or less “after the first arrival at a new post of assignment in a foreign area or a period ending with the occupation of residence quarters, whichever is shorter.” 5 U.S.C. 5923(a) (1)(A)(2000). The period may be extended for 60 additional days if the head of the agency determines that the employee continues to occupy temporary quarters due to compelling reasons beyond his/her control.
Sections 121 and 122.2 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) restate the time limitations provided in the Overseas Differentials and Allowances Act. However, Section 122.3 provides that “an agency or post may … limit the number of days TQSA may be paid to fewer than the maximum number of days.”
The CBCA acknowledged that Section 122.3 authorized NSA to limit its TQSA policy. However, it found that NSA had not, in fact, created a uniform policy limiting TQSA. Furthermore, any policy that would allow posts the discretion to limit the number of days on an employee-by-employee basis without prescribed standards would be “manifestly unfair.”
The CBCA took NSA to task for the confusion surrounding its TQSA policy: “NSA has failed miserably at the task of establishing a limitation on the number of days of TQSA eligibility through a clear policy.” It determined that neither NSA nor the post to which McBee and Sammel had been assigned had a policy limiting the number of days an employee is eligible for TQSA. Consequently, sections 121 and 122.2 of the DSSR, which prescribed eligibility for 90 days, with a possible extension of 60 days, applied. McBee and Sammel were therefore entitled to TQSA reimbursement for all 55 days.
The CBCA noted that even if NSA had a policy similar to what had been explained to the couple before they left—45 days, with a possible extension of unspecified length—it still would have approved their claim. The couple had acted promptly and responsibly in finding permanent quarters; meanwhile, the agency was dilatory, particularly due to the housing officer’s delay in approving the lease for the apartment the couple had located.
Yes. During 2011, GSA issued three relocation policy guides: (1) Relocation Policy Guide for Federal Civilian Agencies, (2) Handbook for Relocating Federal Employees, and (3) Glossary of Acronyms and Terms for Federal Civilian Relocation.
No. The GSA documents are guidance documents based on established policies, but the FTR is the controlling source for rules governing federal civilian relocations. Employees should use guidance documents as a reference guide to supplement the FTR and gain a better understanding of relocation rules and procedures.
GSA developed the guides to help:
Executives understand the basic issues involved in relocation policy
Relocation managers develop their agency-level relocation policies
Program managers determine whether to offer relocation and to select the relocation benefits they will include.
GSA has aggregated information from federal agencies that offer relocation services to other federal agencies on a fee-for-service basis. Referred to as relocation resource centers (RRCs), these agencies offer permanent change of station services in the areas of home sale, household goods, storage, employee counseling, and taxes. The following agencies have voluntarily nominated themselves as RRCs:
Department of Health and Human Services
Department of Interior
Department of Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt
Department of Veterans Affairs
Environmental Protection Agency
General Services Administration, Federal Acquisition Service.
For more detailed information about relocation services provided by a specific RRC and contact information, visit the GSA website at www.gsa.gov under Relocation Resource Centers.
No. The federal agencies and programs listed above and on the GSA website have voluntarily nominated themselves as RRCs. Neither GSA nor its Office of Governmentwide Policy (OGP) endorses any single center or group of centers. Additionally, OGP’s Office of Travel, Transportation and Asset Management does not substantiate any of the claims or statements made by the agencies concerning their center’s PCS service offerings.
GSA promulgates the following ten principles for federal relocation managers:
1. Relocation must be in the interest of the government; it should actively support the agency’s mission and it may not be allowed primarily for the convenience of the transferee.
2. Relocation should be authorized and managed in a manner consistent with the agency’s human capital strategic plan.
3. Relocation should be planned as far in advance as possible.
4. Relocation should be managed through a comprehensive automated relocation management system.
5. When developing a job announcement that will include relocation, the agency should determine:
– The relationship between the agency mission, the job announcement, and the need to offer relocation
– Which optional relocation benefits will be offered
– The estimated cost.
6. No policy can (or is intended to) cover all the expenses or remove all the inconveniences that might be involved in a relocation.
7. Not all relocation allowances are entitlements. The discretionary benefits should be provided only when they advance the interest of the government.
8. Agencies should make every reasonable effort to limit the stress of relocation on transferees and their families.
9. Personal and financial information about the transferee and his/her family must be safeguarded.
10. Transferees are expected to make every reasonable effort to take an active role in managing their relocations, with the dual goals of minimizing overall cost to the government and becoming productive in their new jobs as quickly as possible.
An employee is generally eligible for relocation expense allowances in accordance with the FTR if he/she is:
A new appointee appointed to his/her first official station
An employee transferring in the interest of the government from one agency or duty station to another for permanent duty, and the new duty station is at least 50 miles distant from the old duty station
An employee of the United States Postal Service transferred for permanent duty, under 39 U.S.C. 1006, from the Postal Service to an agency as defined in 5 U.S.C. 5721
An employee performing travel in accordance with an overseas tour renewal agreement
An employee returning to his/her place of residence after completion of a prescribed tour of duty for the purposes of separation from government service or separation from the overseas assignment for reassignment to the same or different government agency
A student trainee assigned to any position upon completion of college work
An employee eligible for a “last move home” benefit upon separation from the government (and the immediate family in the event of the employee’s death prior to separation or after separation but prior to relocating)
A Department of Defense overseas dependents school system teacher
A career appointee to the Senior Executive Service (SES) as defined in 5 U.S.C. 3132(a)(4), and a prior SES appointee who is returning to his/her official residence for separation and who will be retaining SES retirement benefits
An employee who is being assigned to a temporary duty station in connection with a long-term assignment.
The following individuals are not eligible to receive relocation expense allowances:
A foreign service officer or a federal employee transferred under the rules of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended
An officer or an employee transferred under the Central Intelligence Act of 1949, as amended
A person whose pay and allowances are prescribed under title 37 U.S.C., Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services
An employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs to whom 38 U.S.C. 235 applies
A person not covered in question #213.
There are two types of relocations:
Permanent change of station (PCS) – an assignment of a new appointee to an official station or the transfer of an employee from one official station to another on a permanent basis
Temporary change of station (TCS) – the relocation to a new official station for a temporary period while performing a long-term assignment, and subsequent return to the previous official station upon completion of that assignment.
New appointees and transferred employees can be relocated.
No. There are mandatory and discretionary relocation allowances. See FTR Subchapter B – Relocation Allowances Part 302-3 Relocation by Specific Type and Appendix B in this guidebook.
A new appointee is:
An individual who is employed with the federal government for the very first time (including an individual who has performed transition activities under section 3 of the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (3 U.S.C. 102 note), and is appointed in the same fiscal year as the Presidential inauguration)
An employee who is returning to the government after a break in service (except an employee separated as a result of a reduction in force or a transfer of functions who is re-employed within one year after such action)
A student trainee assigned to the government upon completion of his/her college work.
It is important for new appointees to know their relocation entitlements, which differ from relocation entitlements for transferees.
In CBCA 228-RELO, In the Matter of Rafael E. Arroyo (July 11, 2011), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hired a new employee in January 2009. Since January 2010, Arroyo had been trying to rent or sell his home in Puerto Rico and rent or purchase a home in Maryland. He sought additional time and eligibility to receive relocation benefits for accomplishing these tasks, which the FDA denied. Arroyo appealed to the CBCA, which denied his claim.
The CBCA determined that Arroyo was not eligible for those benefits. In its decision, the board outlined the new-hire provisions contained in sections 5722 and 5723 of the U.S. Code. Generally, agencies may authorize reimbursement for the travel and transportation of a new hire and his/her immediate family, the transportation and temporary storage of household goods, and the cost of shipping a POV from the place of residence at the time of hire to the first duty station. 5 U.S.C. 5723 (2006). Agencies may not provide new employees with reimbursement of expenses associated with the sale of residences at old locations or the purchase of new ones at the initial duty station. “Those benefits,” the board noted, “are provided only to employees who are transferred in the interest of the government.” 5 U.S.C. 5742(d).
A transferred employee is an employee who transfers from one official station to another. This may also include employees separated as a result of a reduction in force or a transfer of functions who are re-employed within one year after such separation.
There are five types of transfers:
Relocation of two or more employed immediate family members
Overseas assignment and return
Overseas tour renewal
Prior return of immediate family members.
There are two types of separation relocations: overseas to U.S. return separation and SES separation for retirement.
For overseas to U.S. return separation, employees should be fully aware of the consequences, including financial liabilities, of deciding to separate while overseas without returning to the United States as authorized.
A good example is CBCA 1707-TRAV, In the Matter of Michael W. Silva (January 12, 2010). In the case, a budget officer with the U.S. Marine Corps transferred from Orlando, Florida, to work at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. After working for more than three years at the air station, Silva left government service and took a job as a minister and senior pastor at the Calvary Chapel, near Iwakuni.
As Silva’s work at the Marine Corps Air Station was coming to an end, the agency’s Civilian Human Resource Office (CHRO) issued travel orders stating that he was returning to his “actual residence” of Orlando. The next day, the CHRO amended the orders to state that Silva’s “new official station and location, actual residence, or alternate destination” was an off-base address in Iwakuni. The office issued the travel orders because, as a separating employee remaining abroad, Silva was entitled to allowable expenses in relocating to Iwakuni, including shipment of household goods (HHG). The CHRO explained that it issued the amended travel orders because the Travel Management Office would not otherwise allow Silva to move his HHG to Iwakuni.
It was not disputed that Silva was entitled to shipment of HHG per his permanent relocation to Iwakuni. However, Silva believed that he was also entitled to a return trip to Orlando under the service agreement that he had signed when he initially moved to Iwakuni with the Marine Corps.
About two weeks after accepting a job with the Calvary Chapel, Silva and his family flew to Orlando from Hiroshima, Japan. They stayed in Orlando for close to a month and then returned to Japan. The travel voucher he submitted for reimbursement of one-way fares for himself and his family was rejected by the Marine Corps finance office on the basis that Orlando was not his actual residence. Silva appealed the decision to the CBCA.
The board emphasized that agencies may pay travel and transportation expenses of employees who return from overseas posts to which they were transferred. The board then looked to federal travel regulations to determine whether Silva’s permanent relocation to Iwakuni negated his travel entitlement.
The JTR (sections C5085-A and C5085-B) provides for separation travel from OCONUS duty. JTR section C5085-B provides:
“An employee is:
1. Authorized travel and transportation allowances for travel from the OCONUS PDS to the actual residence established at the time of appointment/transfer to the OCONUS PDS
2. Authorized travel and transportation allowances for travel to an alternate destination NTE [not to exceed] the constructed cost for travel from the OCONUS PDS to the actual residence
3. Personally financially responsible for any excess costs
4. Not authorized travel and transportation allowances if separated from a PDS in the same locality as the actual residence/alternate location.”
In sum, the JTR provides transportation and HHG shipment benefits to the place where the employee relocates after separation from an overseas station. If Silva had relocated back to Orlando when he separated from the Marine Corps, he would have been entitled to reimbursement of allowable travel and shipment of HHG expenses.
Since he chose to remain abroad after separation, he was entitled only to the allowable expenses in relocating to Iwakuni, not to exceed what it would have cost to relocate to Orlando—which he received. The board denied Silva’s claim.
Entitlements and allowances for relocation are determined by the regulatory provisions in effect at the time the employee reports for duty at the new official station. However, this does not change the requirement that all aspects of a relocation must be completed in the timeframes specified in the FTR.
Subchapter B – Relocation Allowances Part 302-3 Relocation by Specific Type of the FTR provides 11 tables (see Appendix B of this guidebook) that detail exactly which benefits are mandatory and which are optional for each type of employee relocation. The following is a simplified list of allowances that are optional in most cases:
Shipment of POVs
Use of a relocation services center
Property management services
Home marketing incentives.
Once an agency authorizes a relocation expense under the terms and conditions of the FTR, the following must be paid:
Transportation and per diem for the transferee and immediate family
Transportation of household goods
Temporary storage of household goods
Extended storage of household goods
Mobile homes that are used as a primary residence
Taxes on relocation expenses.
A service agreement is a written agreement between the employee and the agency, signed by the employee and an agency representative, stating that the employee will remain in the service of the government for a period of time as specified in the FTR (section 302-2.13) after the employee has relocated. A service agreement must also include the duplicate reimbursement disclosure statement specified in the FTR (sections 302-2.22, 302-2.23, and 302-2.100(g)).
A duplicate reimbursement disclosure statement is a written statement signed by the employee and submitted to the agency. It states that the employee and his/her immediate family have not accepted, and will not accept, duplicate reimbursement for relocation expenses. Furthermore, it states that, to the best of the employee’s knowledge, no third party has accepted duplicate reimbursement for the employee’s relocation expenses. The duplicate reimbursement disclosure statement must be incorporated into the employee’s service agreement.
The employee must sign a duplicate reimbursement disclosure statement to receive any relocation benefits.
A service agreement is required if the employee is receiving reimbursement for relocation travel expenses.
A service agreement is not needed for a temporary change of station (TCS). Nor is a service agreement required for an SES employee’s last move home. In addition, a new service agreement is not required for an employee who is returning from a destination outside the continental United States, on the return portion of his/her original orders, when the new authorization is only for shipment of household goods, privately owned vehicles, and transportation of the transferee and family.
Service agreements can range in length from 12 to 36 months, depending on agency policy and whether the relocation is within or outside the continental United States (CONUS or OCONUS).
Yes, the employee is required to sign a service agreement when transferring within or outside the continental United States or performing renewal agreement travel. The minimum periods of service are:
Outside the continental United States for an agreed-upon period of service of not more than 36 months or less than 12 months following the effective date of transfer
Department of Defense Overseas Dependent School System teachers for a period of not less than one school year as determined under chapter 25 of Title 20, U.S. Code
For renewal agreement travel a period of not less than 12 months from the date of return to the same or different overseas official station.
Yes. If an employee violates a service agreement (other than for reasons beyond the employee’s control and which must be accepted by the agency), the employee will have incurred a debt due to the government and must reimburse all costs that the agency has paid toward the employee’s relocation expenses, including the withholding tax allowance and relocation income tax allowance. It is within an agency’s discretion to determine whether, under the particular circumstances, to include a separation from service as a reason beyond an employee’s control and acceptable to the agency.
In CBCA 1433-RELO. In the Matter of David F. Lytal (February 27, 2009), in the spring of 2005, David Lytal began a three-year tour of duty as the Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, Thailand. In October 2007, he requested an early departure from his tour. He asked to be relocated to the United States, indicating that his son was ill and that he was needed back in the United States to take care of him. The DEA’s Career Board approved Lytal’s request and reassigned him to DEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
On November 5, 2007, before Lytal had agreed to the relocation to Washington, D.C., he informed the agency’s Transportation Management Unit that he would be retiring soon after returning to the United States. He was advised that the relocation was conditional upon his signing a DEA 114 Service Agreement – Domestic Transfer form, in which he would agree to remain employed with the federal government for 12 months. Lytal was also advised that if he left the federal government before the 12 months was up, he would be required to reimburse the government for some of the costs of his PCS move.
Ten days later, on November 15, Lytal reiterated to the Transportation Management Unit that he planned to retire upon his return to the United States. He was told that unless his return travel was for the purpose of separating from the service, he needed to sign a DEA 114, agreeing to remain in government service for at least 12 months.
On November 21, 2007, Lytal signed the DEA 114 service agreement, agreeing to remain employed by the government for at least 12 months or repay the government for the cost of his relocation. He then retired from federal service about seven months later, in June 2008.
The DEA asked Lytal to repay $3,734.28 in travel expenses, representing his return to the United States. Lytal, believing that it was unfair that he was required to repay his travel expenses, appealed to the CBCA.
The CBCA confirmed that the DEA was correct in requiring Lytal to repay the travel expenses. FTR section 302-2.13 states that reimbursement for relocation costs is conditional upon an employee’s entering into a 12-month service agreement. Section 302-2.14 further provides: “If you violate a service agreement (other than for reasons beyond your control and which must be accepted by your agency), you will have incurred a debt due to the government and you must reimburse all costs that your agency has paid towards your relocation expenses.”
It is possible that Lytal could have sought relief from having to repay the travel expenses on the grounds that he left the service agreement for reasons beyond his control—to care for his son. However, he did not assert that his separation was for a reason beyond his control. Lytal also could have simply retired before returning to the United States. He was advised by the DEA that he would be entitled to benefits if he retired while at a foreign post of duty. The benefits, however, differed from the ones he would be entitled to under a permanent change of station move.
Lytal claimed to the CBCA that he refused to sign the service agreement until he was advised that the DEA usually does not request reimbursement of travel costs in situations where an employee breaks a service agreement. The DEA vehemently denied this claim. However, even if he had received that advice, it would not have affected his case: The CBCA has consistently and repeatedly found that mistaken advice is not grounds for allowing a claim. Instead, federal employees are expected to know and understand the rules of relocation and travel.
The CBCA summed it up: “When claimant resigned from federal service he was well aware of the requirements of the separation agreement.… Apparently, claimant simply took the chance that the DEA would not enforce the agreement. He lost that gamble.”
The CBCA determined that the DEA was reasonable in requiring Lytal to repay the $3,734.28.
Although agencies have discretion to determine whether a reason is beyond an employee’s control and is acceptable, the CBCA’s role in such matters is to decide whether the agency’s determination has a reasonable basis. The CBCA has made several decisions in which an employee’s reason for breaking a service agreement was determined to be personal, including resignations and retirement; the CBCA upheld the agency’s determination that these reasons were unacceptable.
For example, in CBCA 460-RELO, In the Matter of Marilyn Fournier (February 21, 2007), an Air Force employee was transferred to New Orleans. As part of the transfer, Fournier signed a service agreement promising 12 months of government service in return for the government’s payment of her relocation costs. The agreement provided that if she separated from the government before completing the 12-month agreement, she would have to repay the relocation reimbursement—unless she separated for reasons beyond her control that were acceptable to the agency.
After her transfer to New Orleans, Fournier’s husband was unable to find a suitable job in the area. He instead accepted a job at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Four months after her transfer, Fournier left her position in New Orleans to be with her husband in New Mexico. Although she initially looked for another job with the government, she ultimately accepted a job with an Air Force contractor. Five months after that, she was rehired by the government. The Air Force asked Fournier to repay the relocation reimbursement it had provided for her transfer to New Orleans because she had left government service just four months later.
Unsure whether the Air Force had acted correctly, Fournier appealed to the CBCA. She argued that her husband’s relocation caused her to separate from the government for a reason beyond her control that should have been acceptable to the agency.
The CBCA disagreed. It noted that agencies have discretion to determine whether a reason is beyond an employee’s control and acceptable to the agency; the board’s only role is to decide whether the agency’s determination has a reasonable basis. Furthermore, the board had previously found, in GSBCA 14724-RELO, In the Matter of John A. Bukowski (1998), that an employee’s resignation in order to accompany a transferred spouse was not a separation beyond the employee’s control. The board found that Fournier’s decision to quit her job to accompany her spouse was ultimately a personal choice. Therefore, it was reasonable for the Air Force to determine that her reason for resigning was neither beyond her control nor acceptable to the agency.
Fournier also asked the board to determine whether her work for a federal contractor could be considered a continuation of “government service” under her service agreement. She had, after all, provided service to the government, albeit under contract. The CBCA said no: A contractor who performs services for the government is not in government service for the purpose of complying with a service agreement.
Interestingly, the CBCA noted that service agreements require the employee only to stay in the service of the government, not in the service of a specific agency. If Fournier had found a position with another government agency, she might have been able to complete her service agreement and possibly keep her relocation reimbursement.
If an employee fails to sign a service agreement, the agency will not pay relocation expenses.
No. Service agreements that are already in effect cannot be voided by subsequent service agreements.
Yes. Service agreements cannot be grouped together and must be adhered to separately. Each agreement is in effect for the period specified in the agreement.
To qualify for relocation benefits, the vacancy announcement must have addressed whether or not relocation benefits will be provided. Relocation is not something that can be decided or negotiated after the employee has accepted the new position.
In CBCA 526-RELO, In the Matter of Gary L. Dissette (May 3, 2007), a civilian employee of the Army transferred in June 2000 from the Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Indiana to a position in Germany with the Army Audit Agency. The employee had return rights to the Crane base.
In 2004, Dissette prepared to return to Crane. He was entitled to reimbursement for air travel for him and his family, as well as transportation of household goods. His orders did not authorize real estate expenses or a miscellaneous expense allowance.
While planning his return to Crane, Dissette also applied for a position as an accountant for the U.S. Army Field Support Command in Rock Island, Illinois. The vacancy announcement for the position stated that “permanent change of station (PCS) expenses are not authorized.”
At the time, paragraph C5010 of the JTR offered guidelines that seemed tailormade to Dissette’s situation. Under the provision, an employee relocating from an overseas assignment to an official duty station within the continental United States other than the duty station from which he/she had originally been transferred overseas was entitled to reimbursement of real estate transaction expenses and a miscellaneous expense allowance.
Dissette wondered whether taking the position in Rock Island would net him reimbursement of real estate transaction expenses and a miscellaneous expense allowance, as provided by the JTR. He believed that because such reimbursement was authorized in the JTR, it was a mandatory entitlement that superseded the job announcement’s statement that PCS expenses would not be paid. When Dissette asked Rock Island personnel if he would be eligible for reimbursement, he was told that he “had a choice to make—take the job or not.”
Dissette took the job in Rock Island. Upon arriving at his new official duty station, he once again brought up the issue of reimbursement for real estate transaction expenses and a miscellaneous expense allowance. His command advised him that he was not eligible for reimbursement, but recommended that he try to submit a voucher to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). DFAS rejected his claim, stating that he could not be reimbursed based on the terms of the vacancy announcement.
Dissette then asked the CBCA to review the matter. The board found that DFAS was right: The agency could not reimburse his relocation claim because the vacancy announcement did not authorize PCS expenses.
The CBCA explained that under the JTR provision, the expenses and allowances are payable when “it is in the government’s interest” to transfer an employee from one official duty station to another. The board had previously found that one of the ways an agency may communicate its determination that a transfer is not considered in the government’s interest is by specifying in the vacancy announcement that relocation benefits will not be provided.
In this case, the decision not to pay relocation benefits for the Rock Island position was clearly communicated in the job posting. Therefore, the transfer was not considered in the government’s interest. The board denied Dissette’s claim.
Generally no; employees may not be reimbursed for relocation expenses if they relocate to a new official station that does not meet the 50-mile distance test as stated in FTR section 302-2.6:
“(a) The distance test is met when the new official station is at least 50 miles further from the employee’s current residence than the old official station is from the same residence. For example, if the old official station is 3 miles from the current residence, then the new official station must be at least 53 miles from that same residence in order to receive relocation expenses for residence transactions. The distance between the official station and residence is the shortest of the commonly traveled routes between them. The distance test does not take into consideration the location of a new residence. This follows the distance guidelines found in Internal Revenue Service Publication 521, Moving Expenses.
(b) The head of your agency or designee may authorize an exception to the 50-mile threshold on a case-by-case basis when he/she determines that it is in the best interest of the government. However, the agency cannot waive the applicability of the Internal Revenue Service that is, all reimbursed expenses would be taxable income to you, and the agency would have to reimburse those taxes.
(c) Any relocation must be incidental to the transfer and not for the convenience of the employee.”
No. The accepted practice is to use the “certified weight” as the measure of the actual tonnage transported.
In GSBCA 16744-RELO, In the Matter of Steven W. Anderson (Jan. 19, 2006), an employee of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was authorized a permanent change of station. BLM determined that the transfer was in the best interest of the government and approved Anderson for relocation benefits.
Anderson owned a home at his old duty station, so BLM arranged a moving company to ship his household goods (HHG) to his new location. As a first step in that process, the moving company contacted Anderson and arranged a time to inspect the HHG to be transported. The company arrived at Anderson’s home as agreed and inspected his HHG. It estimated the HHG’s total weight at 17,172 pounds.
Based on the company’s estimate, Anderson believed that the shipment of his HHG would be fully reimbursed by BLM. Unfortunately, after the goods had been loaded for transportation by the moving company and weighed by a certified truck scale, the actual weight was 18,900 pounds. The company submitted an invoice to BLM for its services based on the certified tonnage.
Section 302-7.2 of the FTR authorizes agencies to pay the shipment of employees’ HHG up to 18,000 pounds; accordingly, BLM determined that Anderson should pay the costs of shipping the additional 900 pounds. Anderson appealed to the GSBCA, arguing that he should not have to pay the excess charges because he relied on the mover’s original estimate.
The board found that BLM acted correctly in seeking payment from Anderson. It emphasized that agencies may pay the costs of moving goods only up to 18,000 pounds. While the board recognized that Anderson relied on the mover’s original estimate, it noted that the accepted practice is to use the certified weight as the measure of the actual tonnage transported. Accordingly, BLM was prohibited from paying the expense of moving the additional 900 pounds.
The number one guiding principle for federal relocation managers is that relocation must be in the interest of the government; it should actively support the agency’s mission, and it may not be allowed primarily for the convenience of the transferee.
In GSBCA 16832-RELO, In the Matter of Lindell Baker (Aug. 3, 2006), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced to its employees its strategy to implement a new program called the National Map. In support of the initiative, USGS encouraged employees to voluntarily relocate to “priority areas.” The agency, however, made clear that relocation would be the “employee’s choice” and that “travel, transportation, and relocation expenses would be the responsibility of the employee.”
Forty-three employees initially showed interest in voluntarily relocating. Fifteen eventually did, including Lindell Baker. Baker relocated from Denver, Colorado, to Bozeman, Montana. As part of his transfer, Baker signed a statement that provided: “I voluntarily request consideration for assignment to a position in another commuting area. I am making this request primarily for my personal convenience or benefit. I understand that, if selected, I will be responsible for all travel, transportation, and relocation expenses associated with reporting for duty in that position.”
Approximately three years after Baker’s relocation, USGS announced that employees supporting the National Map initiative would be downsized by competitive sourcing. As a result, many employees would lose their jobs. The agency determined that the program would be located in Denver and only those employees in the Denver commuting area would be eligible to compete for remaining positions.
Unhappy that he had transferred from Denver at USGS’s encouragement and now could not compete for a job, Baker contacted his congressman. He asserted that he had been treated “unfairly, since he [would] lose his job due to the reorganization … and would be out of pocket approximately $10,000 in relocation costs.” He also noted that he “volunteered” to move to Montana because USGS had represented that those who relocated would have a “much more secure future” with the agency.
It is unclear whether Baker’s congressman contacted USGS for a response to his allegations. However, after Baker’s communication with his congressional representative, the agency requested an opinion from the GSBCA regarding whether it could reimburse the relocation costs of the employees who had voluntarily relocated to support the National Map effort.
The board found that USGS could not pay those expenses. It made clear that agencies are authorized to pay an employee’s moving expenses only if he/she is “transferred in the interests of the government.” 5 U.S.C. 5724(a). When a “transfer is made primarily for the convenience or the benefit of an employee … or at his request, his expense … may not be allowed or paid from government funds.” 5 U.S.C. 5724(h).
According to the GSBCA, an agency has wide discretion in determining whether a relocation is for an employee’s “convenience” or in the “government’s interest.” Moreover, the board emphasized that it will not reverse such a decision unless it was arbitrary, capricious, or clearly erroneous; in this situation, that was not the case.
The board emphasized that the employees who relocated had each signed a statement that their move was primarily for their convenience or benefit. In addition, they agreed to be responsible for their relocation costs. Thus, USGS’s determination that the employees’ transfers were not in the interest of the government was reasonable and therefore proper.
Although agencies have discretion to determine when relocation benefits should be paid, such discretion must be exercised in a fair and reasonable manner. The offer and revocation of relocation benefits must be provided in writing. Revocation of relocation benefits should be provided through the same vehicle used to make the offer initially to demonstrate that such action was taken in a fair and equitable manner. Otherwise, agencies risk reimbursing expenses they did not intend to pay.
In GSBA 16953-RELO, In the Matter of Cecelia R. Williams (Oct. 20, 2006), in March 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued two vacancy announcements for an accountant position at the agency’s central office in Washington, D.C. One announcement, posted internally, provided that relocation expenses were not authorized. The other announcement, posted on the USAJOBS website, opened the competition to applicants from other federal agencies and provided that relocation expenses were authorized. Both announcements specified that the selected individual would be at a level between a GS-9 and a GS-13.
Cecelia Williams, a GS-12 accountant with the Department of the Treasury in Parkersburg, West Virginia, applied for the position based on the USAJOBS posting. The VA selected her for an interview. During that process, she was advised by the VA that the USAJOB’s notice regarding the payment of relocation expenses was incorrect.
Shortly after her interview, the VA offered Williams the position at the pay grade of a GS-13. She accepted and relocated to Washington, D.C. After starting work, Williams submitted a request for reimbursement of her moving costs. The VA refused to pay her expenses, so she appealed to the GSBCA.
The board found that Williams was entitled to reimbursement. It noted that the vacancy announcement posted on USAJOBS provided that the moving costs of an externally hired individual would be paid. The board found it immaterial that Williams was told in her interview that she would not be entitled to relocation expenses.
The GSBCA explained that the “selection of an employee pursuant to a merit promotion program is generally deemed to be an action taken in the interests of the government and therefore one for which relocation benefits will be paid.” According to the board, this rule applies unless the agency:
Communicates this finding in advance and in writing to all applicants.
In this case, the VA did not advise Williams (and all other applicants) in writing prior to offering her the promotion that her transfer costs would not be paid. In fact, the reverse was true: The written vacancy announcement provided that such expenses would be reimbursed. The GSBCA found that the oral notice provided to Williams during her interview was insufficient to revoke the agency’s written determination in the USAJOBS posting.