Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., held a hearing Feb. 4 about fraud in recruiting contracts in Washington, D.C. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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The Army National Guard program that awarded bonuses for referring new recruits wasn’t the only such program to fall prey to fraud, but it appears as if the Army is trying to “focus public anger” on the component, a vocal Guard advocacy group said Wednesday.
Instead, fraud is “pervasive” in similar programs across the entire Army, the National Guard Association of the United States said in its statement.
“Army officials have spent months focusing all attention about fraud in referral bonus programs on the Army National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program. Court documents, however, show the problem is pervasive across the Army,” NGAUS said.
Documents NGAUS said it obtained also show the Army “grossly overstated” the amount of fraud that existed in the G-RAP.
“The benefit of hindsight shows that a few in our ranks used an otherwise great program to steal from our government,” said retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, the NGAUS president, in a statement. “We are embarrassed by it, we are outraged by it, but we do admit it occurred.
“What’s puzzling is that Army officials have failed to acknowledge that this was an Army-wide problem,” he said. “In fact, it appears that there is an attempt to focus public anger over fraud in all Army recruiting programs exclusively on the Army National Guard.”
The G-RAP netted tens of thousands of desperately needed soldiers for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also became a place where thousands of troops and others are believed to have defrauded the government of as much as $100 million in taxpayer money.
Army officials denied any intent to unfairly place blame on the Guard.
“The Army is working closely with the National Guard Bureau, the Army Audit Agency, Army Criminal Investigation Command and civil authorities to pursue prosecution and restitution where fraud was committed, and to discipline those who were negligent in their duties without regard to their component,” Army spokesman George Wright said in a statement to Army Times.
NGAUS has produced a research paper, based on its newly obtained documents and records, titled “The G-RAP Program: The Investigations and an Injection of Reality.”
It is available on the group’s website, www.ngaus.org.
One example cited by NGAUS is a group in San Antonio, Texas, whose members were convicted of defrauding $244,000 from five different referral bonus programs. This includes $191,000 from active Army and Reserve programs, according to NGAUS. The Army has publicly couched the case as only a G-RAP case, NGAUS said.
“What we really need here is an independent, comprehensive review of all referral bonus programs across the Army,” Hargett said. “Let the Government Accountability Office study these programs. Have the Inspector General look into why a six-year [Criminal Investigation Command] investigation that was supposed to uncover as much as $92 million in G-RAP fraud has net convictions thus far of less than $1 million. Let’s get all the facts out and let them speak for themselves.”
More than 800 soldiers are under criminal investigation for cheating Army, Guard and Army Reserve programs that paid a bonus to soldiers and civilians between $2,000 and $7,500 for referring each new recruit.
Troops, or in some cases civilian school officials, took credit for recruits who had already enlisted.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who led the congressional investigation into the G-RAP, grilled senior officials who oversaw the program at a Capitol Hill hearing Feb. 4, asking why it had not been designed with effective anti-fraud measures.
“Thousands of service members, their families and friends may have participated in schemes to defraud the government and the taxpayers,” McCaskill said at the time. “Worst of all, this program has the potential to become a stain on service members who do their jobs so well.”
Though recruiters were barred from the program because recruiting was part of their duties, more than 1,200 recruiters fraudulently obtained payments, according to an Army audit. In Texas, a former Guard recruiter was imprisoned for leading a conspiracy in which he offered to pay recruiters for the names and social security numbers of recruits who had already been recruited so that he could get $244,000 in bonuses.
So far, 16 people in the scandal have been convicted and are serving time.
Army investigators have already found the program made $29 million in fraudulent payments, and officials at the hearing said there could be as much as $66 million more. Army Criminal Investigations Command is expected to complete its probe in 2016, “one of the largest the Army has ever conducted,” McCaskill said.
The National Guard first awarded a contract for the program in 2005 to Docupak. The Army and Reserve followed with their own programs.
Docupak first notified the Army in 2007 about potential fraud. By 2012, the Army canceled the program. In all, more than 150,000 new recruits entered the Army through the program that cost $459 million.