Decorating your new place is a hassle. Just ask the folks at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. the agency remains under fire from a prominent lawmaker over the money it spent last summer to furnish its new headquarters.

Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill., says the OCC "broke the law" by paying nearly $30,000 for new furniture and accessories for its executive suite and an adjacent conference room. The OCC strongly disputes that.

The law in question is a 1986 statute that places a $5,000 annual limit on furniture purchases and office improvements by agency heads appointed by the President.

Exemption from Limit Claimed

The OCC maintains that its chief (at the time, Robert L. Clarke) is exempt because the agency doesn't rely on taxpayer monies fo fund its operations.

But Rep. Annunzio, who chairs the House Banking subcommittee on financial institutions, insists the comptroller is subject to the rule.

And the General Accounting Office, which looked into the matter at Rep. Annunzio's request, agrees - to an extent.

In a report last Wednesday, the GAO said, "The statute applies on its face to all presidentially appointed civilian officers and empliyees without qualification," and it doesn't matter how they are funded. The GAO, Congress' auditing arm, said the rules should be clarified.

The Dispute Goes On

But in an internal memo that was included in the GAO report, OCC chief counsel William P. Bowden Jr. dismissed the GAO's legal analysis as "superficial." He said the $5,000 rule applies to redecorating existing office space, not to moves.

"We were moving into a new building, and we had to buy new furniture," said OCC spokeswoman Leonora S. Cross.

On this score, the GAO said, the Comptroller's office might have a point. "The factors cited by OCC may have provided a basis for justification for furniture expenditures exceeding $5,000," the report said.

But the Comptroller's office was not without contrition. According to the GAO report, OCC officials said that in retrospect, they wouldn't have bought items like marble-top tables and leather desk accessories.

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