Lawmakers up in arms over report on Army payroll problems

Friday - 12/14/2012, 3:17pm EST

By Katie Howard
Federal News Radio

The U.S. Army continues to struggle with managing $47 billion in military payroll accounts, which has caused major woes for some soldiers trying to collect their pay, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

As a result of the Army being unable to track and collect data on numerous pay errors including over-payments, under-payments, data-entry errors and fraud, active duty soldiers are not receiving the correct compensation and this has a bipartisan team of lawmakers furious.

"It is unacceptable the Army continues to struggle with payroll issues. After putting their lives on the line, our soldiers should not have to have worry about whether they will receive the pay they have earned," said Sen. Tom Coburn ( R-Okla.). "As this report notes, payroll problems quickly become morale problems and needless distractions for our troops during deployment. There is no excuse for this financial mismanagement."

Coburn has joined the call for collective action led by his colleague Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, who called the Army's payroll system "antiquated and fundamentally broken."

"Federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, should always strive to be good stewards of taxpayer funds, particularly as we struggle to address our massive federal debt and deficit. After all, we can't effectively identify areas to reduce spending if we don't know how much - and where - we're spending that money in the first place," said Carper. "The GAO's findings are disturbing and point to a bigger, broader trend of faulty financial management" at the Defense Department.

300,000 military pay problems

The report found evidence of more than 300,000 military pay problems since 2008 and is a follow-up to an earlier GAO audit which was examined during the joint hearing on New Audit Finds Problems in Army Military Pay chaired by Sen. Carper and Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) in March of 2012.

Specifically, GAO found countless examples of pay problems, as well as fraud cases investigated by the Army Criminal Investigative Division, which could have been prevented but unfortunately were not detected and corrected. The report also stated that the Army's current payroll system "does not have the capability to identify and report the extent and causes" of improper payments.

Specific findings from the report include:

  • A soldier who separated from the Army in 2009 continued to receive active-duty pay totaling about $185,000 until 2011.

  • A soldier who was absent without leave from January 2010 to September 2011 received military pay of $33,268 to which she was not entitled.

  • A soldier under investigation for possible fraud allegedly received over $34,000 in paratrooper and language proficiency pay but did not have a documented record of jumps performed or other required up-to-date proficiency certifications.

In addition to Sens. Carper and Coburn, Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on the Senate side and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.) on the House side all want to see improvements in GAO's findings on the Army's lack of effective oversight.

"As Congress is facing difficult questions over sequestration," Brown said, "It makes it all the more difficult to argue against irresponsible blanket cuts to defense spending when the Department continues to have significant challenges with basic financial management."

"Our brave men and women in uniform have sacrificed enough and they deserve to receive their hard-earned pay free of errors or other accounting problems. I urge the Department of Defense to address the issues identified in the report quickly and completely," he said.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, weighed in on the GAO findings, saying, "We have an obligation to ensure that taxpayers' money is well spent, but we also have a duty to men and women of our armed forces to ensure they receive prompt, accurate pay."

Five recommendations

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has pressed DoD to drastically improve its financial management practices, Carper said. "I welcome that commitment from the Secretary and urge the Army to adopt GAO's recommendations to address these problems outlined in this report," Carper said.

GAO included five recommendations for adopting a more accurate payroll system and to strengthen monitoring and reporting controls

The Army informed GAO that it hopes to have a new payroll system in place by the end of 2016.