Keeping track of personal finances and worrying about a paycheck is particularly vexing in the middle of a war zone, as Lt. Col. Kirk Zecchini of Indianapolis, Indiana, explained to members of Congress last week.
After Zecchini finished his mandatory six-month deployment with the Ohio National Guard, he agreed to stay for another six months. For more than a month of that time, however, his pay stopped, leaving his family concerned about paying their mortgage back in Ohio. “Dealing with pay problems while in a combat zone is not something that anyone should have to worry about,” he said.
Congress agrees, which is why Zecchini testified before members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The hearing coincided with the release of a new Government Accountability Office report on the challenges facing the Army as it prepares for a major audit in 2014. And according to the report, those challenges — including many involving payroll — are serious.
It took three months for the Army to be able to tell the GAO how many people received active duty Army pay in fiscal year 2010 — and took another two months to be able to match pay records to personnel records. In another test, the GAO could not confirm whether the payroll records put forth by the Army were accurate.
The accounting issues aren’t a new challenge for the Army. The GAO reported on over- and underpayments in 2003; in 2006, the GAO said the “cumbersome” process used to pay soldiers was causing wounded veterans to accrue debt. A 2009 GAO report warned that there were not “effective procedures” for dealing with payroll taxes, and yet another report in 2011 warned that millions of dollars were spent in “potentially invalid” payments.
Nor are these issues limited to the Army. In October, the Center reported that the Pentagon’s books are in such disarray that it could cost additional billions of dollars to get them ready for the 2017 audit. Then in December the Center reported that even after trying for 23 years to meet federal accounting standards, the Navy may not be ready for their 2017 audit.
“For years, we and others have reported continuing deficiencies with the Army’s military payroll processes and controls,” warns the new GAO report. “These reported, continuing deficiencies in Army payroll processes and controls have called into question the extent to which the Army’s military payroll transactions are valid and accurate, and whether the Army’s military payroll is auditable.”
While Zecchini, now living in Indianpolis, was the star witness, there were others with similar stories present — the congressmen themselves. Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.), Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) all told of having trouble with their pay during their own military service.
Will anything change? GAO says the army is working on improving these issues, a statement backed by James J. Watkins, the Army’s Director of Accountability and Audit Readiness. “Leadership support of these efforts is visible and contributing to a culture of change and accountability within the Army,” he testified during the hearing. “The message is clear — we are accountable for managing the Army’s resources and supporting audit readiness efforts.”