Inadequate Controls for Stopping Overpayments of Hostile Fire and Hardship Duty Pay to Over 200 Sick or Injured Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers Assigned to Fort Bragg
GAO-06-384R: Published: Apr 27, 2006. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 2006.
Over the past several years, we have reported on significant pay problems experienced by mobilized Army National Guard and Army Reserve (Army Guard and Reserve) soldiers in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack. These reports included examples of hundreds of soldiers receiving inaccurate and untimely payroll payments due to a paper-intensive, error-prone pay process and the lack of integrated pay and personnel systems. In response to our reports, the Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some action to improve controls designed to pay Army Guard and Reserve soldiers accurately and on time, especially those who had become sick or injured in the line of duty. This report responds to a Congressional request that we investigate the allegation that 37 Army Guard and Reserve soldiers assigned to the Medical Retention Processing Unit (MRPU) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were overpaid for hostile fire and hardship duty pay while in an outpatient status. Our objectives were to determine (1) whether the allegations were true, and if so, whether the pay issues were more widespread at Fort Bragg and (2) the key causes of the overpayments and the resulting impact on soldiers and their families.
Our investigation confirmed that 28 of the 37 Army Guard and Reserve soldiers assigned to the MRPU in an outpatient status at Fort Bragg with alleged pay problems were in fact overpaid for hostile fire and hardship duty pay. We also identified at least 204 additional cases of sick or injured soldiers assigned to the MRPU who were overpaid for the same entitlements. An estimated $218,000 in hostile fire and/or hardship duty overpayments were made to a total of about 232 Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in an outpatient status at Fort Bragg during the period April 2003 through June 2005. As we have previously reported, internal control weaknesses in Army processes, human capital, and the lack of integrated systems caused the overpayments of hostile fire and hardship duty pay. Our investigation disclosed that the Fort Bragg Finance Battalion and MRPU controls often failed to detect the overpayments in a timely manner. A Fort Bragg Finance official acknowledged that the Finance Battalion "dropped the ball" by failing to promptly detect and stop the overpayments to sick or injured Army Guard and Reserve soldiers upon their arrival to the Fort Bragg MRPU. Further, in October 2005, DFAS completed an annual performance inspection of the Fort Bragg Finance Battalion that confirmed our conclusion about the problems soldiers were having with hostile fire and hardship duty pay. Our case studies showed that as a result of these overpayments, some soldiers and their families had to expend significant time and effort dealing with pay and resulting debt problems while recovering from their injuries. Several soldiers experienced large, unexpected deductions--as much as $1,172 from a single paycheck--for repaying the debt resulting from the Army's failure to stop the overpayments. On the other hand, the Fort Bragg Finance Battalion did not consistently take action to recover overpayments from other MRPU soldiers during the time of our investigation.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: During 2005, in the face of obsolete, non-integrated personnel, payroll, and medical systems and continuing delays in implementation of new integrated systems, the Army worked with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to develop and implement a Wounded-in-Action database to help identify and resolve soldier pay, travel reimbursement, and debt problems. The database uses weekly data calls from five Army systems to accumulate personnel, payroll, and medical status information. The Army has used this database to research and resolve payroll, travel reimbursement and military debt problems of hundreds of battle-injured soldiers, including soldiers at the Ft. Bragg Medical Retention Processing Unit (MRPU) as well as the other 22 MRPUs that were not part of our investigation.
Recommendation: In conjunction with the Army's proactive efforts to improve Army Guard and Reserve pay account management, the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), should follow up with finance offices supporting the other 22 MRPUs that were not part of our investigation to determine the extent to which hostile fire and hardship duty overpayments to outpatient Army Guard and Reserve soldiers had occurred and ensure that appropriate corrective action is taken. This review should include the pay accounts for outpatient soldiers who had been or are currently assigned to MRPU units, including those soldiers with nonbattle injuries and other illness.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army