Defense Department paymasters have taken steps intended to prevent recurrence of the pay error that occurred between 2004 and 2010, in which more than 17,000 California National Guard members almost were required to recompense the government for $190 million in pay they inadvertently received.
Now, such payments will not be issued until they are cleared through a new Guard Incentive Management System, Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“It was determined … that some monies were given to people who by specific rules were not entitled to [them],” Lengyel told a group of reporters during a recent roundtable.
When the Defense Department discovered the mistake, paymasters contacted the Guard members and told them they had to return the money to the government.
“Service members were not aware they were not entitled [to it], but when the services became aware, they began to recoup this money from these people — who by then had obviously spent it,” Lengyel said. “These were well-meaning service members who served out the commitments of their contracts.”
After an internal analysis of the situation, the Pentagon decided to stop collecting the money from most of the people who received it.
“If they didn’t wrongly and willfully commit fraud, and served out the times of the contracts they signed up for, the debt would be forgiven,” Lengyel said.
He did say that investigators determined that in roughly 400 cases, the persons involved should have known they were not entitled to the additional pay. Presumably, Lengyel said, these individuals are still repaying the overpayment.
Lengyel also said he has faith in the system now in place — with limits.
“I’d love to say it’ll never happen again,” he said. “There are more internal controls in place to make sure it doesn’t.”