US auditors warn legacy systems hamper soldiers' pay

A US Government Accountability Office report has warned that antiquated US Army payroll systems have been pushed beyond their...

A US Government Accountability Office report has warned that antiquated US Army payroll systems have been pushed beyond their breaking point.

The GAO audit, issued this month, found that 95% of 348 mobilised reserve soldiers had at least one payroll problem because of the ageing, stand-alone Cobol-based mainframe systems and the effort needed to move data from one part of the system to another.

The glitches included over- and underpayments, as well as delayed disbursements. Some troops had numerous payroll problems, and at times it took more than a year to correct some of them. 

The Defense Joint Military Pay System-Reserve Component system and the attendant human processes, are "so error-prone, cumbersome and complex" that the soldiers affected cannot be assured of timely and accurate payment for duty served, said the GAO study.

One major weakness stems from a lack of integration between this system and related army personnel applications. The GAO cited one case in which a soldier received an overpayment of $24,000 because of the lack of integration of the payment and personnel systems. 

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which oversees the payroll system, admitted the system is "ageing, unresponsive, fragile and a major impediment to efficient and high-quality customer service", according to the GAO. 

A DFAS spokesman said the payroll system's limitations were exacerbated by the war in Iraq, as the system primarily handled pay for drilling exercises, and not for the 12- or 18-month deployments now taking place in the Middle East.

The Department of Defense is working to roll out a new human resources and payroll software system based on PeopleSoft Enterprise applications. That system was first announced in August 2001 but implementation is not slated to begin until next spring. 

Marc L Songini writes for Computerworld

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