CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Uncle Sam is trying to rein in servicemembers and Defense Department civilians who pay their government credit card bills late.

A new law requires expenses incurred on temporary duty travel, or TDY, to be reimbursed through a split payment.

This allows the government to pay the credit card company directly through an electronic funds transfer, rather than reimbursing a traveler for all expenses, said Robert Freckleton, chief of the finance support office at Camp Zama.

The new rules mean travelers filling out vouchers for temporary duty will have to do so more carefully. On vouchers, travelers will write in the amount owed to the government travel card; they’re then reimbursed for expenses paid out of pocket.

Previously, travelers could elect to receive the full amount, then send a check to the bank backing the card. Bank of America has the contract to provide the federal government with travel cards.

But some bills never got paid or were paid late.

“The government’s gotten a lot of bad press,” Freckleton said. “Bank of America is unhappy” because too many travel card holders “are late paying their bills.”

The change will speed up payments to the bank and help alleviate delinquency, he said.

Bank of America last year threatened to cancel its travel card contract with the Army. The Army’s delinquency rate at the time fluctuated between 10 percent and 18 percent, according to one General Accounting Office report.

Delinquency was reported across all services.

Under the old reimbursement policy, servicemembers didn’t shoulder all the blame.

“Historically, the slow government reimbursement rate has been part of the problem,” Freckleton said.

For a while, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service office in Indianapolis was taking three or four weeks to make reimbursements, he said, adding it’s now about 10 days.

“It doesn’t apply to the Army in Japan,” he said. “We’ve kept turnaround more reasonable than places in the States.”

Freckleton said his office is paying vouchers within five business days.

The new law doesn’t fix government reimbursement delays, but it does address the other problem “because it takes the individual link out of there,” Freckleton said of travel-card holders.

For Army and DOD agencies, the directive took effect July 1. Freckleton said DOD is requiring all services to use split disbursement. But each branch of the military may enforce it differently.

Under Army guidelines, for example, finance offices must send all reimbursements for hotels, rental cars and transportation tickets to the government travel card agency if a civilian traveler does not elect split disbursement — even if a traveler has already paid part of the bill.

The officials must reject vouchers from military members with orders identifying them as government travel card users who do not select split disbursement on their vouchers.

Split disbursement has been an option on travel vouchers for some time, Freckleton said, but “a lot of people elected not to use it, perhaps because they just like to control their own finances and haven’t been accustomed to letting us help them.”

Freckleton said split disbursement requires the traveler to keep track of all expenses paid with the government travel card. Receipts are mandatory for hotel, rental car, and any expense over $75.

For a meal, “I don’t need a receipt for that, but the traveler needs to keep track,” Freckleton said.

In Japan, if the Army finance office at Camp Zama takes 30 days or more to reimburse Bank of America, the Army will pay any late fees, penalties and interest.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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