Army National Guard members experience pay problems

Army National Guard members called to active duty often experience problems in the processing of their paychecks, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

As a result of convoluted and error-prone manual data entry payroll processing systems, members of the Army National Guard are often underpaid or not paid at all after they are called to active duty, GAO reported (GAO-04-89). Soldiers are then burdened with trying to resolve the pay issues, and resulting financial problems, often while they are stationed in remote combat areas.

One sergeant had to make a trip to Kuwait from Uzbekistan to resolve pay problems for his unit, and during the trip the sergeant's plane came under enemy fire, GAO discovered. In another instance, active-duty orders were entered incorrectly for a group of soldiers, causing them to receive statements saying they owed the government an average of $48,000.

"The personal toll that these pay problems have had on mobilized soldiers and their families cannot be readily measured, but clearly may have a profound effect on reenlistment and retention," the watchdog agency concluded.

GAO blamed poor training, inadequate funding and ineffective customer service for the delays and errors. Confusion reigned among Guard and active Army finance personnel concerning who was responsible for processing pay transactions for Guard personnel called to active duty. Guard members stationed in Afghanistan complained of being sent from office to office when they attempted to resolve pay problems.

"Overall, we found the current stove-piped, nonintegrated systems were labor-intensive and require extensive error-prone manual data entry and reentry," the report said. "As a result, it was often difficult to ensure that mobilized soldiers received only and all the pays and allowances to which they were entitled."

GAO made 23 recommendations for improving pay systems and processing, including automating some manual processing activities.

Pentagon officials agreed with the recommendations and pointed to several initiatives already underway to address the problems. "As a first step, expanded central guidance will be published in the next 30 days, which will further articulate the specific responsibilities of the servicing finance activities," Defense Comptroller Dov Zakheim wrote.

In the next 60 days a task force of Defense Finance and Accounting Service and Army National Guard officials will contact various mobilization offices to verify they are complying with the pending guidance.