Military Pay:

DOD Improperly Paid Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers in Deserter Status

GAO-06-848R: Published: Jul 28, 2006. Publicly Released: Aug 28, 2006.

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Over the past several years, we have reported examples of hundreds of Army National Guard and Army Reserve (Army Guard and Reserve) soldiers who received inaccurate and untimely payroll payments due to a labor-intensive, error-prone pay process; human capital weaknesses; and the lack of integrated pay and personnel systems. As part of that work, we reported several cases for which mobilized Army Reserve soldiers never reported for active duty and improperly received pay that they did not earn. If a soldier remains absent, without authority, from his or her unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away permanently, a soldier is guilty of desertion. Desertion from the military is a serious offense. The civilian law enforcement community sometimes assists the Army on desertion cases. For example, the U.S. Army Deserter Information Point (USADIP) enters data about soldiers in deserter status into the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Crime Information Center's (NCIC) Wanted Person File that is used by civilian law enforcement officers. Whenever a civilian law enforcement officer has reason to question someone about any apparent unlawful activity, standard practice for the law enforcement officer is to determine whether there are any outstanding warrants for the arrest of that person. If the person is a soldier with an outstanding arrest warrant for desertion, the civilian law enforcement officer is to arrest and hold the soldier until the soldier can be transferred to military custody for subsequent legal proceedings to determine innocence or guilt. This report follows up on earlier-identified issues concerning Army Guard or Reserve soldiers who did not report for active duty and who may have continued to get paid. Specifically, as part of our earlier work we had notified the Army Reserve 99th Regional Readiness Command about a number of Reserve soldiers who were improperly paid after they failed to report for duty related to the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). The objectives of this investigation were to (1) determine what the 99th Regional Readiness Command had done regarding the Reserve soldiers assigned to the 1004th Quartermaster Company who failed to report for duty as ordered and whether their retention of the pay represented possible criminal behavior, (2) look for other examples of improper pay to Army Guard and Reserve soldiers who were charged with desertion related to GWOT missions, and (3) determine the status of arrest warrants for any soldiers charged with desertion that we identify.

We confirmed that at least seven Army Reserve soldiers assigned to the 1004th Quartermaster Company, located in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, did not report for active duty in December 2003 in accordance with their orders. During the following 8-month period, they cumulatively improperly accepted $195,000 of military pay. The Army Reserve did not stop improper military pay to these soldiers until we notified Reserve officials in August 2004 during a prior assignment. Even after our notification, one of the seven soldiers continued to be paid for an additional 8 months and accepted a total of about $58,000 in improper payments, including about $28,000 for the later 8-month period. We found no evidence that arrest warrants had been filed against any of the seven soldiers as of May 2006. Our limited investigation showed that at least 68 additional soldiers, 38 with the Army Guard and 30 with the Army Reserve, received improper and potentially fraudulent pay, estimated at $684,000, while in a deserter status. This number and amount likely significantly understates the number and amount the Department of Defense (DOD) paid to Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in deserter status. Army, Army Guard, and Reserve officials acknowledged that they were unaware of the extent to which Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in deserter status improperly received potentially fraudulent military pay. They explained that determining the extent to which soldiers charged with desertion continue to receive improper payments is difficult for several reasons. First, initiating and processing desertion cases depend upon unit commanders preparing timely manual paperwork. Second, there is no central database that electronically stores this paperwork. Without these data, military leaders do not have readily available aggregate data affording visibility over the number of desertion cases initiated. Additionally, they do not have a readily available tool to match against pay data to ensure that soldiers in deserter status have not been paid. Knowingly keeping unearned military pay is potentially fraud. Additionally, many of the 75 cases (7 cases from the 1004th Quartermaster Company and the 68 other cases) of Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in deserter status that we identified as having received unearned pay may have willfully converted the pay to their own use, which is punishable by a maximum confinement of 10 years. For example, six of the seven Reserve soldiers who were assigned to the 1004th Quartermaster Company admitted to us that they received unearned military pay when we initially interviewed them in late 2004. Of these six, five told us that they had spent the money and one said she had put the money in a separate bank account. Although we confirmed that the seventh soldier also received unearned military pay, she advised us that she thought that the money she had received was an educational benefit. Subsequently, between April 2005 and September 2005, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) sent the first debt collection letter to each soldier asking for repayment of the unearned pay. Little has been repaid thus far. DFAS information shows that about 9 percent of the estimated $195,000 in improper payments had been repaid as of May 2006. Two of the seven soldiers had not yet made any repayments. Arrest warrants had been issued for 51 of the 75 soldiers. Regarding the soldiers from the 1004th Quartermaster Company, USADIP had no record of arrest warrants. However, 1 of the 7 soldiers voluntarily surrendered to military authorities and received an other than honorable discharge from the military in December 2005 in lieu of a court-martial. Thus, all 51 arrest warrants applied to the 68 other deserter cases we identified. As of May 11, 2006, 18 of the 51 had been apprehended by civilian authorities, 2 soldiers had voluntarily surrendered to military authorities, and 31 soldiers remained at large.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Based on the input from officials attending our corrective action briefing and consistent with the ongoing efforts to improve Army Guard and Reserve pay account management that have been initiated in response to our previous reports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to take appropriate action, including initiating criminal proceedings where warranted and recovering improper payments, on the 75 cases of potential desertion identified in this investigative report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army agreed with this recommendation and in response, reviewed the 75 cases identified in our report. Overpayments ranged from an average of $10,000 per soldier across the Army to over $26,000 per soldier at the Army Reserve unit we reviewed. For the 75 cases, the Army reported the total overpayment amount was over $730,000, and indicated in its last update that more than 10 percent of this amount had been collected.

    Recommendation: Based on the input from officials attending our corrective action briefing and consistent with the ongoing efforts to improve Army Guard and Reserve pay account management that have been initiated in response to our previous reports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to identify other existing desertion cases to determine whether additional Army Guard and Reserve soldiers have received improper and potentially fraudulent military pay, take appropriate action including initiating criminal proceedings where warranted, and recover improper payments on any additional cases identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and stated that improper payments we found resulted from the case study unit's failure to report AWOL/deserters to its finance office, and that, generally, there was little, if any, visibility across Army National Guard and Reserves components regarding payments to soldiers in deserter status. In October 2006, the National Guard Bureau stated that the Army and Reserve Components were working with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and others to identify whether any cases of improper payments exist among soldiers listed in a deserter status. The Army said it performed a data bump between DJMS-RC and Army Deserter Information Point data files and identified an additional 71 cases where payments had been made to soldiers in deserter status.

    Recommendation: Based on the input from officials attending our corrective action briefing and consistent with the ongoing efforts to improve Army Guard and Reserve pay account management that have been initiated in response to our previous reports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to provide better assurance going forward, direct a joint effort by Army, Army Guard, and Reserve components to (1) develop a near-term strategy covering the human capital, business processes, and systems issues relevant to potential desertion cases in order to provide better assurance that soldiers who do not report for duty are not paid and (2) in the cases where future improper and potentially fraudulent acceptance of unearned pay are detected, take appropriate action, including initiating criminal proceedings and recovering those improper payments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army, in response to our report, compared payment data to deserter information records and identified over 70 cases of improper payments to soldiers in deserter status. Also, according to an official from the Army Financial Management Command, the Army Human Resources Command performs monthly bumps of the pay system data with multiple personnel databases, including the deserter system, and coordinates discrepancies with DFAS.

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