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Office of the General Counsel

Matter of: [xxx]
Date: January 21, 2000
File Number: 002923

OPM Contact: Jo-Ann Chabot

This is a claim for payment of a quality step increase (QSI) that the claimant, an employee of the [agency] states he received. The claim is denied for the reasons stated below.

At all times pertinent to this claim, the claimant was employed with the same [acronym] agency and command. Although the claimant's supervisor presented him with an award certificate for a QSI in March 1994, the claimant never received payment for the QSI. The claimant states that he received the certificate immediately before he transferred to another position in the same command that was under the jurisdiction of a different personnel office. Agency officials denied the claimant's request for back pay on July 24, 1996 because there was no record that the personnel office had ever received and approved the required nomination and approval form (Agency Form 38). They also advised that, according to pertinent Comptroller General decisions, they could not implement a personnel action retroactively if an agency official with final approval authority had not approved it. The agency noted further that an official in the personnel office had the final approval authority. On January 16, 1997, the agency sustained its initial denial of the claim.

The claimant submitted a copy of the award certificate signed by the supervisory official with authority to approve the award, as well as letters from the nominating official and the supervisory official. The nominating official stated in his letter that he signed the nomination block on the Agency Form 38 and his supervisor signed the approval block on the same form. He stated that the claimant had received the award certificate, but the Agency Form 38 never had been located. In his letter, the supervisory official stated his belief that an award certificate customarily would not be available until the personnel office had finished processing the nomination and approval form and that his receipt of the certificate for signature indicated that the authorization process had been completed. The claimant thus states that he is not seeking retroactive approval of a QSI, but payment for a QSI that was approved and granted in 1994.

The agency submitted a description of its procedures for approving and issuing awards, including QSIs. According to the description, the award would be logged into the current fiscal year database for tracking purposes and further research concerning last promotion, base salary, within grade increases and other QSIs received. The award thereafter would be given to the Awards Administrator for review and approval and, if the award were approved, three copies would be made of the original award package. A personnel clerk would receive the original package for the purpose of making the certificate and one copy of the package would be mailed to the supervisor with a note advising the supervisor to inform the employee when he or she would receive the award money. Another copy of the award package would be filed in the records of the personnel office and the final copy would be filed in the employee's official personnel folder. A Standard Form 50 (Notification of Personnel Action) also would be completed, and signed by the Awards Administrator. Copies of the signed Standard Form 50 would be distributed to the employee and placed in the employee's official personnel folder and the personnel office files.

In addition, the agency submitted a copy of its QSI regulations that were in effect at the time that the claimant was nominated to receive that award. Agency Regulation No. 1416.9 (June 25, 1997) provides in relevant part that QSIs are effected on the Standard Form 50. It also provides that QSIs become effective on the first day of the first pay period following final approval by the official in the local civilian personnel office who has the authority to authorize the processing of the personnel action that will make the QSI effective.

Generally, an agency has the discretionary authority to approve or to deny a QSI as an incentive award. 5 U.S.C. 5336; 5 CFR 531.501 et seq. Therefore, an employee does not have a vested right, by statute or regulation, to be granted a QSI unless and until the appropriate agency official approves the recommendation. Matter of Frederick J. Kahn, B-221128 (September 26, 1986); Matter of James Byrnes, B-193583 (May 17, 1979); 58 Comp. Gen. 290 (1979). In this case, it appears that the appropriate management official approved the recommendation to grant the claimant a QSI. However, the approval of an official in the personnel office also was required before the QSI could be granted.

Even though an award certificate customarily is issued after approval of the award by a duly authorized personnel official, the certificate alone is not sufficient to show that such an official approved the award. The certificate itself does not bear the signature of a personnel official who was authorized to approve QSIs. Moreover, according to information the agency provided, several copies would have been made of the nomination and approval form, and the approving management official would have received a copy of that form with a written note advising him to inform the claimant when the award money would be received. A Standard Form 50, with the approval signature of a duly authorized personnel official also would have issued and several copies of that form would have been made. The agency has not been able to locate any of these documents. Without evidence (such as the fully executed nomination and approval form, the Standard Form 50, or copies of these forms) showing that a duly authorized personnel official approved the QSI, we must conclude that the QSI was not approved or granted. Therefore, the claim for a QSI is denied.

This settlement is final. No further administrative review is available within the Office of Personnel Management. Nothing in this settlement limits the claimant's right to bring an action in an appropriate United States Court.

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