Page images
PDF
EPUB

By the act of March 3, 1877, an act entitled “ An act establishing post-roads, and for other purposes” (19 Stat., chap. 103, p. 319), it is provided

Sec. 5. That it shall be lawful to transmit through the mail, free of postage, any letters, packages, or other matters relating exclusively to the business of the Government of the United States: Provided, That every such letter or package to entitle it to pass free, shall bear over the words “Official business” an indorsement showing also the name of the Department, and, if from a bureau or office, the names of the Department and bureau or office, as the case may be, whence transmitted.

Sec. 6. That for the purpose of carrying this act into effect, it shall be the duty of each of the Executive Departments of the United States to provide for itself and its subordinate offices the necessary envelopes; and in addition to the indorsement designating the Department in which they are to be used, the penalty for the unlawful use of these envelopes shall be stated thereon.

Following this act of Congress was the opinion of AttorneyGeneral Charles Devens, dated May 16, 1877, which held

“That the word “Department' here means Executive Department is indicated by the language employed in the next section, requiring each of the Executive Departments (for the purpose of carrying the law into effect) 'to provide for itself and its subordinate offices the necessary envelopes;' and that the words “ bureau or office’ mean a bureau or office in such Executive Department is to be implied from the requirement that the name of the Department shall appear on the letter or package with that of the office or bureau.

“The several Executive Departments are by law established at the seat of government; they have no existence elsewhere. Only those bureaus and offices can be deemed bureaus or offices in any of these Departments which are constituted such by the law of its organization. The Department, with its bureaus or offices, is in contemplation of the law an establishment distinct from the branches of the public service and the offices thereof which are under its supervision. Thus, the office of postmaster, or of collector of internal revenue, or of pension agent, or of consul, is not properly a departmental office-not an office in the Department having supervision over the branch of the public service to which it belongs. True, an official relation exists here between the office and the Department, one, moreover, of subordination of the former to the later; but this does not make the office a part of the Department.

"As, then, the words bureau or office,' employed in the proviso, are to be taken to signify a bureau or office in any of those Departments, such bureau or office must be of the same locality, established at the seat of government. The phrase "subordinate offices,' occurring in the next section, does not enlarge the signification of those words, but is to be understood as referring to offices of the same description as are included thereby." (15 Opin., 262–267.)

Subsequently, Congress passed the act approved July 5, 1884, being “an act making appropriations for the service of the Post-Office Department," etc. (23 Stat., 158), by which it is provided:

SEC. 3. That section twenty-nine of the act of March third, eighteen hundred and seventy-nine (20 Stat., 362) be and it is hereby, amended so as to read as follows:

“The provisions of the fifth and sixth sections of the act entitled 'An act establishing post routes, and for other purposes approved March third, eighteen hundred and seventy-seven, for the transmission of official mail matter, be, and they are hereby, extended to all officers of the United States Government, not including members of Congress, the envelopes of such matter in all cases to bear appropriate indorsements containing the proper designation of the office from which or officer from whom the same is transmitted, with a statement of the penalty for their misuse. And the provisions of said fifth and sixth sections are hereby likewise extended and made applicable to all official mail matter of the Smithsonian Institution: Provided, That any Department or officer authorized to use the penalty envelopes may inclose them with return address to any person or persons from or through wbom official information is desired, the same to be used only to cover such official information, and indorsements relating thereto: Provided further, That any letter or packet to be registered by either of the Executive Departments, or bureaus thereof, or by the Agricultural Department, or by the Public Printer, may be registered without the payment of any registry fee; and any part-paid letter or packet addressed to either of said Departments or bureaus may be delivered free, but where there is good reason to believe the omission to prepay the full postage thereon was intentional, such letter or packet shall be returned to the sender: Provided further, That this act shall not extend or apply to pension agents or other officers who receive a fixed allowance as compensation for their services, including expenses of postage. And section thirty-nine hundred and fifteen of the Revised Statutes of the United States, so far as the same relates to stamps and stamped envelopes for official purposes, is hereby repealed."

In view of this act, the Secretary of the Treasury on August 1, 1884, requested the opinion of this Department as to whether the second proviso, providing for the free registry of letters and packets,” applied elsewhere than at the post-office at the seat of government. Replying to this question, Acting Attorney-General S. F. Phillips said:

“Understanding a Department'as not extending to certain officers of the Government—such, for instance, is are excluded specitically and by name in the opinion of the Attorney-General addressed to the Postmaster-General May 16, 1877-I advise you that a · Department officer who, in the course of public business, is called temporarily to discharge his official duties at some place away from the seat of government, during such absence and for such duties comes within the meaning of the words · Executive Department or bureaus thereof, as used in the proviso to which you call attention; and therefore, if required by such discharge to make use of the facilities of registry, may do so without the payment of any fee."

This Department, in the opinion just quoted, recognized the scope of its prior decision as to the restriction of postal privileges to officers of the Government located in the city of Washington, but so far qualified that decision as to say

“that the exigencies of public business often require that officers strictly departmental shall pass to some other part of the country for its transaction. Where such transaction is itself valid, it may be done with the aid of any help thereto that Congress has devised therefor, in general terms, as has been done here."

By an act approved May 21, 1890 (26 Stat., 116), it is provided that all mail matter, of whatever class, relative to the census and addressed to the Census Office, to the Superintendent of Census, his chief clerk, supervisors, or enumerators, and indorsed official business, Department of the Interior, Census Office, Registered,' shall be transported free by registered mail.”

You state in your letter that “the ruling of Acting Attorney-General Phillips would apply to a large number of officers who are denominated as examiners, special agents, inspectors, etc., of the various Departments, who are located at points outside of Washington, or are traveling throughout the country; and if they were accorded the unlimited use of the registry system, they would probably resort thereto in many cases where it is unnecessary, and thereby the practice would become burdensome to the Department.”

I do not understand the opinion of Acting Attorney-General Phillips to go to the length thus suggested. On the contrary, I understand him generally to affirm and follow the position theretofore taken by this Department in the opinion of Attorney-General Devens, with this modification only, that, if an officer of an executive department, or bureau, whose permanent and official location is in Washington, should be called by the exigencies of public business to leave Washington, he should not be denied, for the purposes of official business, the privilege of free registry at points elsewhere than at the seat of Government. I do not understand him to mean that subordinate officers of the Government, who are permanently and regularly located elsewhere than in Washington, have the privilege of free registration, and therefore his opinion should not be understood, as suggested in your letter, to apply to "examiners, special agents, inspectors, etc., of the various departments, who are located at points outside of Washington, or are traveling through

19395—VOL 23-02-21

out the country.” It does apply to one “traveling throughout the country," provided that his regular official office is at the seat of Government and that he has temporarily left it on official business, and that the matter transmitted by registered mail relates to the business of his office at Washington. In other words, the Acting Attorney-General simply meant that the mere fact that an officer whose regular office is at Washington is required by public business to go to some other part of the country, does not make him less entitled to a privilege as to official business, which he would enjoy if at Washington. The opinion was expressly limited to “a department officer, who in the course of public business, is called temporarily to discharge his official duties at some place away from the seat of Government." If, for example, the Comptroller of the Currency bad occasion to visit the city of New York in connection with an insolvent national bank, and had occasion while there to transmit important documents to his office at Washington, he would be entitled to register such matter at the post-office of the city of New York with the same freedom as at the post-office of the city of Washington. But I do not understand the opinion referred to to apply, for example, to a pension agent in the city of New York, who is not temporarily, but permanently, located elsewhere than at the seat of Government.

Had not this Department, in the opinion referred to, reached the conclusion that this proviso in the act approved July 5, 1884, had a more restricted application than the act itself, I should have felt considerable doubt as to its true construction. The purpose of the act was to extend and not to restrict the privileges of the mail. It practically nullified the opinion of Attorney-General Devens by extending the privilege of the free delivery of mail matter to all officers of the Government, without regard to the location of their offices. Did Congress intend to make the privilege of free registration less than that of free mailing? Congress was evidently of opinion, with reference to the ordinary mailing of matter free of postal charges, that no sound reason existed why an official letter addressed by an officer of the Government from New York to Washington should be made subject to postal charges, while a similar letter, upon the same business, and sent from Washington to New York

« PreviousContinue »