August 29, 2006 in Nation/World

Report: Pentagon has paid deserters

Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has done little to recover nearly $900,000 mistakenly paid to 75 Army reservists who have not reported for duty since late 2001, congressional investigators said in a report Monday.

Less than two dozen have either surrendered or been arrested.

The report by the General Accounting Office details ongoing problems with a military payroll system consistently slammed as convoluted and error-prone – with repeated instances of troops either being overpaid or underpaid despite months spent trying to straighten things out.

The GAO said the number of improper payments and the amount of money involved is probably significantly understated. The report said the Army and the Army National Guard and Reserve have acknowledged being unaware of the extent of the problem because there is no central data system to track such records.

GAO first reported the payment errors in 2004. It contacted Pentagon officials again this year to determine whether the money had been repaid or the deserters located.

Pentagon spokesman Brian Maka said officials were still reviewing the report and its recommendations and declined further comment.

Congressional auditors identified 75 soldiers in the Army National Guard and Reserve who were designated as deserters for failing to report for duty when their units were called up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of that number, arrest warrants were issued for 51.

As of mid-May, 18 had been apprehended and two had surrendered. The report detailed less than $18,000 in improper payments that had been repaid.

The GAO also said unit commanders did little to prevent or detect the improper payments and filed paperwork reporting the deserters as much as six weeks after they failed to show up.

The report recommended the Pentagon begin criminal proceedings against the deserters and try to recover the payments.

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