Army National Guard:

Inefficient, Error-Prone Process Results in Travel Reimbursement Problems for Mobilized Soldiers

GAO-05-79: Published: Jan 31, 2005. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2005.

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GAO was asked to determine (1) the impact of the recent increased operational tempo on the process used to reimburse Army Guard soldiers for travel expenses and the effect that travel reimbursement problems have had on soldiers and their families; (2) the adequacy of the overall design of controls over the processes, human capital, and automated systems relied on for Army Guard travel reimbursements; and (3) whether the Department of Defense's (DOD) current efforts to automate its travel reimbursement process will resolve the problems identified. GAO selected and audited 10 case study units that were identified in a preliminary assessment as having a variety of travel reimbursement problems.

Mobilized Army Guard soldiers have experienced significant problems getting accurate, timely, and consistent reimbursements for out-of-pocket travel expenses. These weaknesses were more glaring in light of the sustained increase in mobilized Guard soldiers following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. To its credit, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) hired over 200 new personnel to address travel voucher processing backlogs and recently upgraded their training. However, Guard soldiers in our case study units reported a number of problems they and their families endured due to delayed or unpaid travel reimbursements, including debts on their personal credit cards, trouble paying their monthly bills, and inability to make child support payments. The soldier bears primary responsibility for travel voucher preparation, including obtaining paper copies of various types of authorizations. DFAS data indicate that it rejected and asked soldiers to resubmit about 18 percent of vouchers during fiscal year 2004--a churning process that added to delays and frustration. Also, existing guidance did not clearly address the sometimes complex travel situations of mobilized Army Guard soldiers, who were often housed off-post due to overcrowding on military installations. Further, DOD continued to be noncompliant with a law that requires payment of late payment interest and fees when soldiers' travel reimbursements are not timely. With respect to human capital, GAO found a lack of oversight and accountability and inadequate training. Automated systems problems, such as nonintegration of key systems involved in authorizing and paying travel expenses and failure to automate key processes, also contributed to the inefficient, error-prone process. DOD has been developing and implementing the Defense Travel System (DTS) to resolve travel-related deficiencies. However, DTS will not address some of the key systems flaws. For example, DTS is currently not able to process mobilized soldier travel authorizations and vouchers and identify and calculate late payment interest and fees.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: Automated solutions to address mobilization pay/personnel interface problems caused by current manual processes were to be incorporated in the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS). Requirements development for DIMHRS incorporated the need for an interface between DIMHRS and the Defense Travel System (DTS). However, DIMHRS initial operational capability, which had been scheduled for March 2009, has been further delayed. The latest DOD approach turns the current system baseline over to the Services for assessing feasibility of use for Service level build-out and developing high level cost estimates by the end of November 2009. Final decisions on possible implementation of Service-specific solutions are now scheduled for the end of March 2010.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to, as part of the effort currently under way to reform DOD's travel (DTS) and pay and personnel systems (DIMHRS), incorporate a complete understanding of the Army Guard travel reimbursement problems as documented in this and related reports into the requirements development for these systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To address this recommendation, DOD expanded its requirement for a financial briefing, provided to soldiers during mobilization and demobilization processing, to include specific training on travel entitlements and submission of travel claims. Demobilization stations are also now required to assist soldiers in completing their travel claims. To supplement this training and additional assistance, the Army National Guard and Army Reserve distribute soldier pay handbooks, travel entitlement flyers, and travel claim submission and review checklists to soldiers at mobilization/demobilization stations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to evaluate the adequacy and frequency of training provided to mobilized Army Guard soldiers that teaches them to accurately prepare and timely submit travel vouchers, including procedures for obtaining and submitting authorizing documentation for per diem entitlements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DFAS is tracking all incoming calls and the reasons for the calls to document the types and frequency of travel-related problems reported to the toll-free number. This data is summarized in a monthly report. In addition each caller is provided with a voluntary customer survey to complete after their call to DFAS is finalized. The monthly reports and survey results should help DFAS monitor customer service and help target areas where training or improved guidance may be warranted.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop and monitor programwide performance metrics to document the types and frequency of travel-related problems reported to the DFAS toll-free number and measure the effectiveness of this customer service effort to help target areas where training or improved guidance may be warranted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Acting on our recommendation, DFAS has begun analyzing supplemental vouchers, and has revised the weekly travel report it prepares and provides to Army customers to include this analysis. Historical supplemental voucher data was analyzed by DFAS for the period June 1, 2004 through January 31, 2005. Based on a statistical sample of these supplemental vouchers, DFAS reported that 70% of the claims were a result of traveler error while 30% were errors on the part of DFAS voucher examiners. The most common traveler errors were missing documentation (statements of non-availability (SNA), receipts, and/or orders) and incorrectly filled-out itineraries. The most common CTO errors were incorrect meals reimbursement due to misinterpreting/missing SNAs and incorrect daily lodging calculations. By monitoring and analyzing this supplemental voucher data on a continuous basis, DFAS will be able to identify recurring problems, and work with Army management to develop solutions for improving the quality of the travel reimbursement program over time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop and monitor programwide performance metrics to monitor and analyze supplemental voucher data to help identify recurring problems and solutions as well as the quality of the travel reimbursement program over time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD responded to the recommendation by developing resources and taking measures to provide more effective unit-level reviews of travel vouchers. For example, the Army published a detailed travel voucher review checklist that was incorporated into the Army National Guard Unit Level Pay Procedures Manual and the Army Mobilization Finance Standing Operating Procedures. The checklist was also distributed to travel voucher reviewers at the various demobilization stations. Additionally, the reviewer's responsibilities were incorporated into the ongoing distance learning classes designated for mobilizing unit commanders who have primary responsibility for ensuring their soldiers' travel vouchers are properly documented and authorized. With these enhancements in place, the Army, in conjunction with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, continues to monitor performance related to timely travel voucher processing.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop and monitor programwide performance metrics to provide assurance that unit review of travel vouchers accomplishes the purposes of that review, including verifying that the required documents are attached and all needed signatures are included.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Army has begun to use Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) weekly reports that have been modified to more accurately reflect the reasons travel vouchers are rejected. These reports identify the total number of vouchers with errors, the specific errors that caused voucher rejections, and the number of vouchers rejected for each type of error. Through a combination of process changes and increased training, the return of incomplete travel reimbursement claims to soldiers, including Army National Guard troops, has dropped from about 20% to the 12% range. The availability of weekly DFAS reports on rejected travel vouchers is a tool that should help the Army further improve the quality of the travel reimbursement program over time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop and monitor programwide performance metrics to identify the root causes of travel vouchers that are rejected and returned by DFAS Contingency Travel Operations Office and United States Property and Fiscal Offices (USPFO) travel computation offices, including the reasons why individual soldiers fail to timely and properly prepare and submit travel vouchers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Army National Guard Financial Services Center, previously designated as the ombudsman for pay issues, has been given additional responsibility for resolving travel reimbursement problems encountered by Army Guard soldiers. Soldiers can contact the ombudsman directly via email or toll-free hotline and the ombudsman will coordinate actions necessary to resolve travel reimbursement issues. The ombudsman's phone number and email address have been published on a wide variety of media, including soldiers' leave and earning statements and travel-specific guidance contained in the Army National Guard Citizen Soldier's Guide to Mobilization Finance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to consider appointing an agencywide leadership position or ombudsman with accountability for resolving problems Army Guard soldiers encounter at any point in the travel authorization and reimbursement process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, DOD updated its FMR to be consistent with TTRA and federal travel regulations by requiring payment of applicable interest and fees at the time the voucher is processed instead of requiring the traveler to submit a request for late payment interest and fees before these amounts are paid.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to enhance efforts to ensure compliance with the Travel and Transportation Reform Act of 1998 (TTRA), through the payment of late payment interest and fees to soldiers for late travel reimbursements. Such efforts should include, at a minimum, updating DOD's Financial Management Regulation provisions concerning the payment of late payment interest and fees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD revised and re-issued the Army's Personnel Policy Guidance which now includes 5 separate situational examples to facilitate decisions regarding issuance of Statements of Non-availability to mobilized soldiers for their living quarters and meals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to clarify existing guidance in the personnel policy guidance for contingency operations by including situational examples based on laws and regulations similar to those in the Joint Federal Travel Regulation to assist decision makers in making determinations of nonavailability related to quarters and meals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Army revised its Personnel Policy Guidance (PPG) by specifying use of a standard SNA form (Government Quarters and/or Mess, DD Form 1351-5) and requiring standard data, such as the date(s) meals and lodging are not available, that must be included on the SNA form. Compliance with the standardized SNA form and content should help travel computation office reviewers determine the validity of SNAs more consistently.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop and implement guidance to standardize the form and content of statements of non-availability for soldiers on contingency operations. The guidance should establish an acceptable basic statement of non-availability (SNA) form (e.g., written, memo, stamp, number), and should address, but not be limited to the period(s) covered; the type of per deim (e.g., housing, meals); the rationale for acceptance (e.g., shift work, inadequacy of transportation) or denial; the applicable meal rates (e.g., locality meal rate, proportional mean rate); and the required authorization levels and signatures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD responded to the recommendation by revising the Army's policy guidance for mobilized personnel (Personnel Policy Guidance) and issuing instructions requiring the Army Guard's order-writing system (Automated Fund Control Order System-AFCOS) to add a statement to the standard format for mobilization orders for Army Guard soldiers. The statement is, "Meals and lodging will be provided at no cost to the soldier." The inclusion of this statement on the orders should help prevent future charges to mobilized Army Guard soldiers for meals in government dining facilities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to modify existing policies and procedures to require that mobilization and related travel orders clearly state meal entitlements. Such orders should specify that mobilized soldiers are not required to pay for meals in government dining facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Defense Finance and Accounting Service reviewed the travel-related issues for the soldiers with problems identified in our report and performed additional work that included a complete review of travel issues for all 1,235 soldiers in the 10 case study units. Travel claims by soldiers were reviewed and resolved on a case by case basis by paying per diem, reversing invalid debts or collecting valid debts for improper per diem payments.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to review the outstanding travel payment problems we identified at the 10 case study units to identify and resolve any remaining travel-related issues for the affected soldiers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, DFAS reiterated current policies associated with TTRA by reissuing Travel Technical Message 04-10, Subject: Procedures for Paying Interest on Travel Vouchers, to all Army activities, including the National Guard, which requires travel offices to use the WINIATS liaison screen to track the appropriate dates used to identify travel vouchers paid late. In addition, specific instructions to activate the liaison screen and to input required dates are now incorporated in the revised WINIATS User Guide which is included with WINIATS software updates sent to travel computation offices. Proper implementation of this guidance will help provide the data needed for management oversight and compliance with TTRA.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to reiterate or enhance current policies requiring the capture of critical dates for management oversight and compliance with TTRA, including steps required to activate the WINIATS Liaison Screen.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, DFAS developed enhancements to the WINIATS' liaison screen that requires travel voucher technicians to enter specific information about each claim that, in turn, allows the WINIATS system to properly compute interest if the processing time frame requires it to be paid. Continued use of this system enhancement of WINIATS should help ensure compliance with TTRA.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop enhanced policies and accountability mechanisms to use the current Integrated Automated Travel System version 6.0 (WINIATS) system to comply with the requirements to identify late payments and reimburse soldiers for late payment interest and fees required pursuant to TTRA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Where applicable, DFAS has processed and paid interest on most of the specific claims identified by GAO. Additionally, DFAS completed a 100% review of over 120,000 potential claims that may have been due interest. Of those claims, over 19,000 were entitled to receive interest due to late payment, and were paid interest totaling about $85,000.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to enhance efforts to ensure compliance with the Travel and Transportation Reform Act of 1998 (TTRA), through the payment of late payment interest and fees to soldiers for late travel reimbursements. Such efforts should include, at a minimum, paying the soldiers who we determined were due late payment interest and any appropriate late payment fees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  16. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the Army's request, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service reviewed 126,220 potential travel vouchers that may have been due interest. Of these vouchers, DFAS identified 19,189 vouchers for which soldiers were entitled to receive TTRA payments. DFAS collectively paid these soldiers $84,515 or an average of $4.40 per voucher.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to enhance efforts to ensure compliance with the Travel and Transportation Reform Act of 1998 (TTRA), through the payment of late payment interest and fees to soldiers for late travel reimbursements. Such efforts should include, at a minimum, considering the feasibility of identifying and paying those soldiers who were entitled to TTRA payments but, because DFAS made no such payments prior to February 2004, did not receive them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  17. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army, in conjunction with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), has developed metrics to monitor performance related to timely travel voucher processing and compliance with TTRA. These metrics include the number of travel vouchers processed by the DFAS Contingency Travel Operations Office during the month, the number of these vouchers that were not paid within 30 days of proper voucher submission, as required, and the dollar value of TTRA payments applicable to these vouchers.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to enhance efforts to ensure compliance with the Travel and Transportation Reform Act of 1998 (TTRA), through the payment of late payment interest and fees to soldiers for late travel reimbursements. Such efforts should include, at a minimum, developing metrics pertaining to the payment of late payment interest and fees under TTRA and monitoring to ensure compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  18. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Defense Travel Service Program Management Office (DTSPMO) and the Army agree with the intent of the recommendation. However, DTS is not currently programmed to identify, calculate, and pay late payment interest and fees required pursuant to the Travel and Transportation Reform Act of 1998. Although requirements documentation for DIMHRS (Personnel/Pay) includes the need for an interface between DIMHRS and DTS (which potentially could support late payment calculations), interface agreements between the DTSPMO and DIMHRS continue to be a work in progress. Furthermore, DIMHRS initial operational capability, which had been scheduled for March 2009, has been further delayed, and any implementation decision for DIMHRS will not occur until the end of March 2010.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to identify, calculate, and pay late payment interest and fees required pursuant to TTRA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  19. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The timing and ability of DOD to efficiently and effectively process mobilization travel vouchers through the Defense Travel System (DTS) has depended on the successful development and implementation of the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS) and its interface with DTS. However, DIMHRS initial operational capability, which had been scheduled for March 2009, has been further delayed. The latest DOD approach turns the current system baseline over to the Services for assessing feasibility of use for Service level build-out and developing high level cost estimates by the end of November 2009. Final decisions on possible implementation of Service-specific solutions are now scheduled for the end of March 2010.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to integrate or interface automated travel vouchers, SNAs, temporary change of station (TCS) orders, mobilization orders, and other relevant systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  20. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The timing and ability of DOD to efficiently and effectively process mobilization travel vouchers through the Defense Travel System (DTS) has largely depended on the successful development and implementation of the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS) and its interface with DTS. However, DIMHRS initial operational capability, which had been scheduled for March 2009, has been further delayed. The latest DOD approach turns the current DIMHRS system baseline over to the Services for assessing feasibility of use for Service level build-out and developing high level cost estimates by the end of November 2009. Final decisions on possible implementation of Service-specific solutions for an integrated military human resources system have been deferred until the end of March 2010.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to automate critical travel process functions such as travel vouchers and TCS orders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  21. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Automated solutions to address National Guard and Reserve mobilization pay/personnel interface problems caused by current manual processes were to be incorporated in the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS) development. DIMHRS initial operational capability had been scheduled for March 2009, but this integrated pay-personnel system has been further delayed. The latest DOD approach turns the current system baseline over to the Services for assessing feasibility of use for Service level build-out and developing high level cost estimates by the end of November 2009. Final decisions on possible implementation of Service-specific solutions are now scheduled for the end of March 2010.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop an automated, centralized system for SNAs covering potential non-availability issues experienced by mobilized guard soldiers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  22. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, WINIATS software version 6.0.4 was released to all travel offices in April 2005 that included edit check procedures for the key travel date fields that are manually entered--the period of travel, the dates the traveler and reviewer signed the voucher, and the date the travel computation office received the voucher. For example, WINIATS edits on date fields to ensure that future dates are not input in the system. In addition, all date fields must be completed or WINIATS will not allow the travel voucher examiner to complete the review of the claim. As designed, this edit function should help improve the availability and reliability of travel dates that are manually entered into WINIATS.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to develop and implement WINIATS system edit checks to ensure the accuracy of manual entries into WINIATS for the period of travel, the dates the traveler and reviewer signed the voucher, and the date the travel computation office received the voucher.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  23. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DFAS developed a WINIATS web-based training module for the National Guard Bureau (NGB) website and other training material that included charts on the use of the WINIATS Liaison Screen for capturing the dates relevant to travel voucher processing. In addition, NGB contracted for a training class on WINIATS to provide training for all USPFOs that serve Army Guard travel voucher processing needs and held National Conferences in March and June 2006 during which Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) staff presented WINIATS training. A DFAS official informed us that future updated releases of WINIATS software will include instructions on how to enter data on the WINIATS Liaison Screen. This training should help improve the travel voucher processing skills of USPFO travel voucher technicians and, in turn, help DOD comply with TTRA requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army, in conjunction with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), to provide training and guidance to the USPFOs on the use of WINIATS capabilities to capture traveler, reviewer, and travel computation office receipt dates, and to upload that information to DFAS's Operational Data Store system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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