All In the Family

Accepting reimbursement for services that were actually paid for by a relative leads to a federal employee’s removal.

In Randall v. Department of Defense (C.A.F.C. No. 2016-1163 (nonprecedential), 6/13/16), a fired federal employee could not convince the appeals court that he should be reinstated notwithstanding an expense reimbursement that the agency concluded was misuse of agency funds on Randall’s part.

As explained in the court’s opinion, Mr. Randall was an accountant with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service when he ran into his problem. After volunteering for a special assignment that made him eligible to have the agency reimburse his home internet service, Randall submitted three claims amounting to just over $1,530. The agency paid. However a staff member later detected that the bills Randall submitted for Internet services were actually in the name of Randall’s father for service at his parents’ home. When the agency learned that Randall apparently did not forward the reimbursements to his father or to the service provider, it removed him for misuse of agency funds. (Opinion p. 2)

The Merit Systems Protection Board upheld the removal, holding that if “an employee comes to possess government funds, he may be charged with misuse if he does not abide by agency rules and regulations regarding such funds.” It turned aside Randall’s argument that such misuse can only be committed by a disbursing official.

Randall then tried his hand with the appeals court, where he has now lost his bid to overturn the removal.

In its opinion, the court agrees with MSPB’s conclusion that the facts in this case add up to misuse of agency funds. (p. 3) The court also turned aside Randall’s argument that there was no nexus between his offense and the interests of the agency since he had volunteered for the position that gave rise to the reimbursement situation. Pointing to Board findings that agency officials testified that as the result of this situation they had lost trust in Randall and questioned his honesty, particularly given his position as an accountant, the court ruled that nexus was established by amble evidence. (p. 4)

As for Randall’s contention that removal was way too harsh, the court agreed with the Board that the penalty “is not grossly disproportionate,” and was therefore a reasonable exercise of discretion by the agency. (p. 4)

The bottom line for Mr. Randall is that he remains fired for misusing $1,530 of agency funds.

Randall v. DOD 2016-1163

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.