WASHINGTON – Most of the 90 soldiers in the Salisbury-based 200th Military Police Company experienced “some sort of pay problem” after they were mobilized in October 2001, according to a General Accounting Office study released Thursday.
The Maryland unit was one of six Army National Guard units across the country studied by the GAO, which found a pay system “so cumbersome and complex that . . . mobilized Army Guard soldiers cannot be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payroll payments.”
The report said that in the Salisbury-based unit, “83 of the company’s 90 soldiers experienced at least one pay problem.” One soldier did not start getting correct payments until seven months into his mobilization.
Soldiers in the company were overpaid by about $74,000, said the GAO, which also discovered $11,000 in underpayments and $10,000 in late payments. That came as a shock to Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, who has visited with the company’s soldiers in Salisbury, Cuba and Baghdad.
“We didn’t realize prior to this how pervasive a problem it was,” Gilchrest said. “When they put their life on the line and when they’re away from their families for so long, people really need to get the paperwork done right.”
The GAO study found that 94 percent of soldiers in the six Guard units surveyed “encountered problems with earnings calculations during one or more steps of their mobilization, deployment or demobilization,” Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said Thursday. Shays is vice chairman of the Committee on Government Reform, which asked for the study.
Among the causes cited for the mistakes were “delays in submitting documents, incorrect data entry and limited personnel to process the mass mobilizations,” the study said. The system that is used to process payroll for guardsmen and reservists plays a major role in delaying — and in some cases preventing — those soldiers from getting paid.
The Defense Joint Military Pay System-Reserve Component was “originally designed to process payroll payments to Army Reserve and Army Guard personnel on weekend drills, on short periods of annual active duty . . . and for training.” But that system, which depends on manual data entry and re-entry, is being stretched to the limit now as is it used to pay guardsmen on active duty.
“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,” the GAO study said.
“While not designed as such, these pay operations have evolved over time to the point that few, if any, in the department fully understand their breadth, scope and inherent weaknesses,” the study said.
The GAO recommended that the Defense Department take several steps aimed at streamlining the way guardsmen are paid, including clarifying payroll policies and procedures, and updating and integrating the payroll system.
Maryland National Guard officials said the 200th Military Police Company responded to the Pentagon on Sept. 12, 2001, and stayed there for two weeks after the terrorist attacks before heading home briefly. The GAO study of the unit began with their call-up on Oct. 1, 2001.
After several weeks of training, most of the unit was sent back to guard the Pentagon, while three soldiers in the unit were sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The unit was demobilized in August 2002.
Some of the soldiers in the 200th were later transferred to another unit that was deployed to Baghdad, where Gilchrest met them again. The congressman, whose district includes Salisbury, said his office plans to contact those guardsmen on active duty right now.
“Over the next couple of days, we’ll make some inquires to make sure none of those folks are having any problems,” he said.