GAO says reservists experiencing travel reimbursement problems

National Guard and Reserve military personnel are not receiving timely or accurate reimbursements for some travel expenses, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

That report (GAO-05-79) was unveiled at a hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability Wednesday.

"National Guard soldiers experienced problems receiving appropriate travel and per diem reimbursement," said Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., the subcommittee chairman. "In light of our heavy reliance on Guard and Reserve troops to win the global war on terror, it is imperative that travel reimbursement and other management issues be resolved, and that our uniformed personnel be informed of the extensive work that has been done and continues to be done to address any problems."

The GAO applauded the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for hiring more than 200 people to deal with backlogs in processing travel vouchers. The report noted, however, that problems persist and present real-world dilemmas for soldiers.

"Guard soldiers in our case study units reported a number of problems they and their families endured due to delayed or unpaid travel reimbursements," the report said, "including debts on their personal credit cards, trouble paying their monthly bills and inability to make child support payments."

The study found that soldiers in Pennsylvania's 876th Engineer Battalion filed identical travel vouchers but received payments that ranged from nothing to $1,718. In another example, GAO found personnel in the Mississippi 20th Special Forces unit were erroneously charged for meals at a mess hall.

Patrick Shine, director of military and civilian pay services at DFAS, said the problems began with the massive call-up of reservists in 2003.

"This spike in travel claims temporarily overwhelmed our staff," Shine said.

He told the subcommittee that help was secured from contractors and military finance units. Ultimately, however, Shine said that several difficulties with travel reimbursements will be solved with the implementation of the Defense Travel System--an online process that will be simpler for users and administrators. DTS is scheduled to be available to reservists before the end of fiscal 2006.

GAO said the new system will not solve all of the problems.

"DTS is not currently able to process mobilized soldier travel authorizations and vouchers," the report said, "and identify and calculate late payment interest and fees."

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