Legal Briefs: Money for nothing

klunney@govexec.com

Every Friday on GovExec.com, Legal Briefs reviews cases that involve, or provide valuable lessons to, federal managers. We report on the decisions of a wide range of review panels, including the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and federal courts.

Kenneth Billings was living in Staunton, Ill., when he became a regional financial institution examiner for the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) in 1997. NCUA is an independent agency that supervises and insures federal and state-chartered credit unions.

Billings' appointment document listed his official duty station as Escanaba, Mich., though he never lived or worked, even temporarily, in or around Escanaba during his tenure.

NCUA explained that, in an attempt by certain agency officials to get around competitive hiring procedures, Billings and other employees were assigned-on paper-to false duty stations. Several NCUA officials were suspended and demoted because of the improper hiring practices.

Before resigning in 1998, Billings filed a claim for almost $20,000 in per diem expenses, saying that since his official duty station was in Escanaba, he should be paid per diem while on temporary duty travel to Staunton. Billings defined "official" as the duty station listed on his appointment document: Escanaba.

The Board of Contract Appeals called the bluff, saying that an employee's permanent duty station is not a debatable matter, but a salient fact, determined "by where an employee expects and is expected to spend the greater part of his time."

Lesson: There may be no place like home, but there's no per diem for being there.

In the Matter of Kenneth E. Billings (GSBCA 15264-TRAV) GSBCA, May 30, 2000.

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