Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Army is Broken II: Pay Problems 

It’s even worse than it looks. The only reason the other 6% got paid correctly is because they are AGR soldiers—“active guard and reserve,” who are full time employees of the National Guard or Army reserves. As such, their pay never needed to be reprocessed in the first place, other than to be inputted for hazardous duty or family separation pay.

When you adjust for those soldiers, the actual systemic failure rate is much closer to 100%.

Some problems were more severe than others: I had one mortarman who left his civilian job and family on just a few days notice, who didn’t get paid at all for over two months. His problem was submitted multiple times at Fort Stewart, but the request was never entered into the system.

Unlike active duty troops, our families don’t live near military installations where pay experts can help family members resolve problems while their husbands are deployed.

Compounding the errors: when National Guard units reached Iraq, ostensibly they were brought under the control of larger brigades, regiments, and divisions—each with an attached or organic finance unit, who’s job it is to see that these problems are fixed. When we got to theater, though, we were informed we were “on a different pay system,” and the active duty finance units were not able to make the necessary changes to correct the errors.

Units were forced to correspond with pay clerks all the way back at their state headquarters via phone, e-mail, and snailmail. But many units went weeks without access to phones or e-mail, and snailmail was taking three weeks and more to reach the U.S. So not only were soldiers processed incorrectly for pay in the first place, but their unit leaders didn’t even have anyone in the country to go to who could accept responsibility to see that the problem was fixed.

Of course, this led to pay problems which could normally have been corrected with a few keystrokes to fester for weeks and even months. We are even now still trying to get pay problems fixed—for example, ensuring married soldiers actually collect housing allowances at the married rate, rather than at the lower single rate.

After months of discouragement, many soldiers have given up on reporting their pay problems, figuring they can get them fixed at the demobilization station when they go home.

The Army’s effort to integrate its reserve and active duty component personnel systems has been a miserable failure.

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