Most Army Reservists Have

Payroll Problems, GAO Finds

Army Reserve payroll procedures for activated soldiers are so convoluted that mistakes occurred in 95 percent of the cases examined by congressional auditors, the Government Accountability Office said yesterday.

Soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan have had to spend a year or more straightening out problems affecting their pay, allowances and tax benefits, the GAO said.

Most errors involved overpayments, but those proved to be problematic for soldiers who did not acknowledge the extra pay or did not set aside enough money to pay it back. In one example, the GAO recommended a criminal investigation for a soldier who did not report $36,000 in overpayments.

The GAO found the payment system was so "error-prone, cumbersome and complex that neither [the Defense Department] nor, more importantly, Army Reserve soldiers themselves could be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payments."

In its response, the Pentagon agreed with 15 GAO recommendations for improving payroll procedures and said it is working to correct the problems.

The National Guard and reserves make up about 40 percent of the U.S. force in Iraq. The GAO previously found similar problems affecting the Army National Guard. In November, it said payroll problems affected 450 of 481 mobilized soldiers whose records it examined.

For the Record

* The Treasury Department should see if it can change a rule that makes people forfeit unused money they put into tax-free health care accounts, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a letter to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow. Employees who have flexible spending accounts agree to put aside a specified amount of salary for medical costs not covered by health insurance. Workers' taxable income is reduced by that amount, saving them money at tax time. But they must forfeit to their employer any money unused by year's end, a provision that has hurt the accounts' popularity.

* The Food and Drug Administration advised women who had mammograms at Ecumed Health Group in Hialeah, Fla., to seek another screening or an independent review of past film to ensure breast cancer warnings were not missed. Mammograms performed since January 2001 at Ecumed were of poor quality and unreliable, and the FDA said the facility failed to meet U.S. standards for image quality.

* Sealant used in the Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Texas to prevent plutonium from leaking in case of an accidental blast is peeling, and repairs could cost $20 million, according to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. The sealant was applied to faulty door welds on underground workshops after officials learned weld repairs were never completed.

* The Supreme Court refused to reopen a case challenging the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance and its reference to God in public schools. Michael Newdow, an atheist in California, had asked the justices to consider overturning their June ruling that he could not legally represent his 10-year-old daughter in the case because he does not have sole custody of the girl. Newdow wants the words "under God" removed from the pledge.

-- From News Services