Description:  261 FW 2, Certifying Officers

FWM#:          332 (replaces FWM 186, 4/7/95)
Date:             October 13, 1998
Series:           Finance
Part 261:       Cash Management
Originating Office:  Division of Finance   

2.1 Purpose. This chapter defines the parameters of the position of Authorized Certifying Officer, Fish and Wildlife Service.

2.2 Scope. The provisions of this chapter apply to all Authorized Certifying Officers. The concepts of accountability and relief discussed in this chapter apply only to an "Authorized Certifying Officer," who certifies vouchers upon which monies are to be paid out by Disbursing Officers.

2.3 Definitions.

A. Authorized Certifying Officers. Individuals who have been charged with the responsibility of authorizing certified vouchers for payment are held accountable for public funds in civilian agencies. These individuals have no public funds in their physical possession, but are accountable for and required to make good to the Government the amount of any illegal or improper payment resulting from their certification.

B. Disbursing Officers. An officer or employee of a Federal department designated to disburse monies and render accounts in accordance with laws and regulations governing the disbursement of public monies.

C. Accountable Officers. Individuals who have physical custody of Government funds. They are, in effect, insurers of the public funds in their custody and are excusable only for losses due to acts of God or the public enemy.

D. Approving Officials. An individual who reviews electronic or paper invoices and attests by signature or electric means that cost data and amounts billed are correct and that services or goods have been received.

2.4 Responsibilities of Certifying Officers.

A. Authorized Certifying Officers have a very serious burden to avoid liability or to qualify for relief from an erroneous payment. Authorized Certifying Officers must rely upon the Service's system of controls to ensure the propriety of payments. To avoid personal liability, Authorized Certifying Officers are to be knowledgeable of Service control systems, and comply with established procedures. Authorized Certifying Officers are responsible for determining that:

(1) The funds are legally available for payment;

(2) The services for which bills have been presented have been rendered;

(3) Advancement of funds prior to the rendition of such services is legally proper;

(4) The payment complies with all laws and Service regulations referenced in 2.5 below;

(5) The vouchers are correct;

(6) The computations are correct; and

(7) The amount of any illegal, improper, or incorrect payment is not certified for payment.

B. Authorized Certifying Officers should not certify payment transactions that do not provide evidence of following established control procedures. Authorized Certifying Officers will return payment transactions that are deficient to the appropriate administrative officials for correction.

C. The Authorized Certifying Officer's job is to certify vouchers for payment. The liability of an Authorized Certifying Officer is prescribed under U.S.C. Title 31, Money and Finance.

2.5 Authority.

A. United States Code, Title 31:

(1) Section 3528, Responsibilities and Relief from Liability of Certifying Officers.

(2) Section 3529, Requests for Decisions of the Comptroller General.

(3) Section 3325, Vouchers.

B. General Accounting Office Policy and Procedures for Guidance of Federal Agencies: Title 3 Section 54, Certifying Officers; and Title 7 Section 19, Examination, Approval, and Certification of Payment Documents.

C. Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, Second Edition, Volumes I and II.

D. Federal Acquisition Regulation - FAR.

2.6 Procedures. Automation has changed the way the Government does business. Authorized Certifying Officers must be aware of the internal controls in place and rely on the control system. Reliance is no longer principally based upon paper documents. In many cases payment transactions are recorded and authorized based upon electronic transactions, documents, and approvals.

A. Payment Control System. The Service relies upon a system of automated and paper controls to assure that payments are proper and authorized before disbursement. A key control is the review and approval of all payments by approving officials prior to certification. Authorized Certifying Officers rely upon reviews by approving officials and the preparation of appropriate documentation by contracting officers and approving officials. Failure to appropriately discharge the duties of an approving official can result in disciplinary action through the personnel system.

B. Statistical Sampling. The Service relies upon statistical sampling to reduce the costs of operating its payment control system. Under 31 U.S.C. 3521(b)-(d), agency heads are authorized, upon determining that economies will result, to prescribe the use of adequate and effective statistical sampling procedures in the prepayment examination of disbursement vouchers. When selected, a payment transaction is verified to external evidence such as documents and entries in other systems, and reviewed for evidence of proper authorization. The use of statistical sampling for post-payment audit in conjunction with "fast pay" procedures is allowable, subject to several conditions:

(1) The economic benefit to the Government must exceed the risk of loss;

(2) The plan must provide for a meaningful sampling of all invoices not subject to a 100 percent audit; and,

(3) The plan must provide a reliable and defensible basis for the certification of payments.

2.7 Relief from Liability.

A. When an improper or incorrect payment is certified by a Certifying Officer, relief can be granted by the Comptroller General. The Comptroller General may:

(1) Relieve a Certifying Official of responsibility for the physical loss or deficiency of public money, vouchers, checks, securities, or records; or,

(2) Authorize reimbursement from an appropriation or fund available for the activity in which the loss or deficiency occurred.

B. Certifying Officers acting in good faith and in conformity with an authorized control system and/or statistical sampling procedure will not be held liable for any certification or payment on a voucher that was not subject to specific examination because of the procedure.

C. Factors considered by the Comptroller General are:

(1) The obligation was incurred in good faith;

(2) No law specifically prohibited the payment;

(3) The United States Government received value for the payment;

(4) Evidence that the payments are accurate and legal relating to the automated system rather than the individual transactions;

(5) Information showing that the system on which certifying officers rely is functioning properly; and

(6) Evidence that reviews are made periodically to determine that the automated systems are operating effectively and can be relied on to produce payments that are accurate and legal.

D. The Comptroller General may also relieve a Certifying Officer from liability of an overpayment to a:

(1) Common carrier under Title 31 U.S.C. 3726 when he/she decides that the overpayment occurred only because the administrative audit before payment did not verify transportation rates, freight classifications, or land grant deductions.

(2) Vendor under a Government bill of lading or transportation request when the overpayment was the result of using improper transportation rates or classifications or failing to deduct the proper amount under a land grant law or agreement.

2.8 Advance Decision. A Disbursing or Certifying Officer or the Head of an Agency may apply to the Comptroller General for an advance decision, prior to certification, concerning the legality and correctness of any voucher presented for payment. An advance decision provides the official protection against legal liability. Requests should be supported by all documents and facts relevant to the decision. If the requesting official fails to present any known facts pertinent to the decision and the payment later becomes challenged and deemed illegal, improper, or incorrect, the official will not be granted relief or protection against liability. The Head of an Agency may delegate an agency official to advise Disbursing or Certifying Officers in cases involving payments of $25.00 or less. Written notification of a recommendation should be provided by the agency official and the recommendation should be attached to the voucher as supporting documentation, in the event legal questions arise in the future.

2.9 Designating an Authorized Certifying Officer. Upon approval by the Chief, Division of Finance, Headquarters, or the Assistant Regional Directors--Budget and Administration, an employee can be designated as an Authorized Certifying Officer. To accomplish this, an FMS Form 210 (Designation for Certifying Officers) must be completed by the employee, approved by the designated official and forwarded to the Department of the Treasury. To designate Certifying Officers, the approving official must have a delegated authority form (FMS Form 2958, Delegation of Authority) on file with the Department of the Treasury. Treasury maintains an automated system to manage all delegations and designations of authority for disbursement related functions. Designations of Certifying Officers are valid for 2 years from the effective date, unless revoked earlier.

2.10 Forms. The following forms are prescribed for use in the administration of Authorized Certifying Officer functions and are available in all finance offices.

A. FMS Form 2958, Delegation of Authority.

B. FMS Form 210, Designation for Certifying Officers.

C. Standard Form 1166 - Electronic Data Processing, Voucher and Schedule of Payments.

D. DSC Form 6, Notice of Action Taken.

E. GPO Form 1990-775-935, Return of Document for Additional Information/Correction.

F. Unauthorized Procurement Action.

G. Bill for Collection Request.

H. Precertification Authorization.

For information about the content of this policy, contact the Division of Financial Management. For more information about this Web page, contact Krista Bibb, in the Division of Policy and Directives Management. 

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