In re Use of Agency Funds For Bar Membership Expenses, B-204021
|16 April 1982
|61 Comp.Gen. 357
|Comptroller General of the United States
|MATTER OF: USE OF AGENCY FUNDS FOR BAR MEMBERSHIP EXPENSES
Attorneys - fees - bar admission fees - reimbursement - incumbent appeals officers - merit systems protection board pursuant to a program to assist appeals officers meet a new requirement that they be bar-admitted attorneys, the merit systems protection board (the board) seeks to reimburse them for their initial bar admission fees. These fees are personal obligations of attorneys. They are not reimbursable, even though the requirement was later imposed on incumbent employees and the board supports the reimbursement as part of an effort to avoid losing these employees by a reduction-in force. B-187525, Oct. 15, 1976, is distinguished. Attorneys - fees - bar review - reimbursement - government employees law school tuition and bar review course tuition are similarly necessary expenses incurred in order to qualify for a legal position. Therefore they, like bar admission fees, are personal to the employees and are not payable from appropriated funds. The board should make no further payments under its bar assistance program and should recover tuition and fees already paid to its employees unless waiver is granted pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 5584.
Ms Evangeline W. Swift, general counsel of the merit systems protection board (board), has requested our views on whether the chairperson of the board (chairperson) May properly authorize the expenditure of board funds for certain one-time bar membership fees for incumbent appeals officers who, as a result of a recent board action, are now required to be bar- admitted attorneys. The general counsel mentions in passing that the board has already adopted a policy to reimburse incumbent officers for law school tuition, up to $1, 000 for each fiscal year, and for the costs of their bar review courses prior to sitting for a bar examination. Although she asks specifically only about the propriety of bar membership fees, we conclude that all three types of expenditures from board funds are unauthorized.
The merit systems protection board was established by the president's reorganization plan no. 2 of 1978, in implementation of the civil service reform act of 1978 (csra) (pub. L. 95-454, 5 U.S.C. 1101 notes). A major statutory function of the board, as was true also of its predecessor agency, the civil service commission, is to provide a forum for the adjudication of certain appealable personnel actions within the federal service. Prior to the reorganization, the commission utilized gs-930 appeals officers to conduct many of the appeals hearings and these employees became board employees by a mass transfer action after the reorganization.
The gs-930 series does not require bar membership, and many of the transferred appeals officers were not law school graduates, or, if they were, had not yet passed a bar examination. A spokesman for the general counsel explained informally, that some criticisms had been leveled at the lack of professional expertise with which hearings had previously been conducted, during the course of hearings on the bills which became the csra.
To Meet These Criticisms, On November 21, 1979, the Board Established A New Requirement that All Appeals Officers Must Henceforth Be Bar Admitted Attorneys. Their Positions Were Reclassified to the Gs 905 (attorney- Advisor) Excepted Service Series. A Reduction in Force Was Instituted and the Old Gs-930 Series Was Phased Out. Incumbents Were Relieved of Their Duties as Appeals Officers and for the Most Part, Assisted to Find Other Positions Within or Outside the Agency. the Board Then Undertook the Above Described Program of Financial Assistance for Those Incumbent Employees Who Were Interested in Qualifying for the New Gs-905 Positions By Becoming Attorneys. Approximately 10 Employees Took Advantage of the Offer. We Understand that Approximately $13, 000 Has Been Expended to Date Under the Program, and at Least Two...
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