WASHINGTON — Congressional researchers have identified dozens of AWOL guardsmen and reservists receiving paychecks despite their criminal absence, and said the Army has no reliable system to ensure that those deserters are taken off the service’s payroll.

Over the last three years, the Government Accountability Office has monitored 75 cases of guardsmen and reservists who failed to report to active duty when their units were called up, but still received “improper and possibly fraudulent pay” while listed as deserters.

The researchers estimated those errors cost the Army nearly $880,000 over that span, and said their calculations “likely significantly understate the number and amount the Department of Defense paid to Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in deserter status.”

Gregory Kutz, managing director of the GAO’s special investigations, said the review of payroll records was prompted by complaints from reservists who reported the mistaken payments to their absentee colleagues.

“They were angry that folks were being paid and hadn’t shown up for duty,” he said. “This is a case of people falling through the crack in a payroll system that is not fully integrated.”

In many cases, researchers found, the problems stemmed from local unit commanders delaying or forgetting to report a servicemember AWOL to appropriate officials.

Of the 75 soldiers the GAO tracked, 51 were charged with crimes and 18 were apprehended by law enforcement officials.

The GAO researchers actually tracked down seven soldiers from the 1004th Quartermaster Company in Pennsylvania who received a combined $195,000 in improper paychecks, and handed their information over to local military officials in 2004.

But the report said as of last May, the seven servicemembers had repaid less than $18,000 of the missing cash.

Officials at the GAO recommended better enforcement of laws regarding deserters, including criminal proceedings of many of the cases they identified and better monitoring of the payroll systems.

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