Let Them Drink Cola!

Appropriated funds cannot be used for buying drinking water for federal employees. Can a federal official be personally liable for buying drinking water for use by employees?

Does a federal employee have to pay for bottled water to drink?

In one case at least, the answer is “yes” because Uncle Sam will not pick up the tab.

Most readers have never heard of Clarence Maddox. His job does not put him in the headlines of newspapers around the country and he probably works hard and diligently as federal employees do throughout the government.

If you have been a client for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, you may have seen his name though. He is the Clerk of Court for this organization.

He is also the certifying and disbursing officer for the court. Apparently there is a heavy workload that goes along with this and his agency recognizes the amount of work to be done.

Nevertheless, his job cost him $485.60 because he bought bottled water for employees of the Fort Pierce Division Courthouse.

When Mr. Maddox was told that the purchase of the water for employees was not proper, he stopped buying it. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts asked GAO to relieve Mr. Maddox of personal liability for the water purchased under his direction and authority. There were 11 payments totaling $485.60 at issue.

Bottled drinking water for employees is a personal expense. In effect, appropriated funds may not be used to purchase bottled drinking water for employees unless there is a necessity for doing so.

What is a necessity? It doesn’t mean that employees have to drink water. Rather, it would have to be something unusual such as the drinking water normally available is contaminated and no other water is available.

In this instance, Mr. Maddox referred to “ongoing concerns about environmental issues in the Courthouse, which has had ongoing sewer and plumbing problems.” That, presumably, could have contaminated the water. The problem was, no one tested the water to see if it was safe or not.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47