95% of Army reservists faced pay errors, audit says

GAO report criticizes `cumbersome' system

August 24, 2004|By Michael Kilian | Michael Kilian,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - As many as 95 percent of Army reservists called to active duty during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts have experienced problems with their military pay, according to an audit report the Government Accountability Office released yesterday.

The problems included underpayments, overpayments and late payments, as well as a month's delay or more in reservists receiving their tax exemption benefits.

"The processes and automated system relied on to provide active duty pay, allowances and tax benefits to mobilized Army Reserve soldiers are so error-prone, cumbersome and complex that neither [the Defense Department] nor, more importantly, Army Reserve soldiers themselves, could be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payments," the GAO report said.

It took some soldiers more than a year to straighten out their pay problems, the report said.

"These pay problems often had a profound adverse impact on individual soldiers and their families," the study said. "Soldiers were required to spend considerable time, sometimes while deployed in remote, hostile environments overseas, seeking help on pay inquiries or in correcting errors."

The survey blamed the troubles in part on insufficient resources allocated to key unit-level pay offices, inadequate training on proper procedures and "poor customer service."

Defense Undersecretary Tina Jonas said the Defense Department concurred with the findings and would implement the 15 recommendations that the GAO, Congress's investigative arm, made to fix the problems.

"The DoD ... is already taking actions to correct the noted deficiencies," she said in a letter to the GAO.

The investigative agency said it audited the cases of 348 reservists mobilized during the 18-month period from August 2002 through January 2004 and found that 332 of them had encountered pay problems.

The soldiers audited belonged to eight diverse reserve units, including a Maryland military police company, a Michigan surgical unit, a Connecticut military intelligence detachment and a Pennsylvania chemical detachment.

"Potentially hundreds of DoD, Army and Army reserve organizations and thousands of personnel were deficient," the report said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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