Stopping entitlement fraud on Guam
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Allegations of pay and allowance fraud on Guam are a serious concern. Those allegations substantiated through investigative work have uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages against the U.S. government, with potential to run into millions of dollars in damage. Given the budget cutbacks and ever-tightening financial limitations under which we operate, these violations of departmental policy and law, when publicized, have a tendency to erode taxpayer confidence in our ability to manage critical purse strings.
According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, entitlement fraud occurs when there is misrepresentation, fault, or lack of good faith and the individual should have known, or reasonably known, that an incorrect payment has occurred, and failed to inquire or bring the matter to the appropriate official's attention.
A taxpayer I recently encountered amidst these investigations, who wished to remain unidentified, poignantly remarked, "It shakes my confidence greatly because it makes me wonder how else their (the U.S. military) lack of oversight and integrity is hitting my wallet. I think it also unfairly casts other people in a negative light, even if they're using the program correctly."
I believe these concerns are most valid. I also believe that their negative effects can be mitigated by four means within our collective and individual spans of control. These four means are: integrity, attention to detail, education and enforcement.
To give the reader a snapshot of the scope of this problem on Guam, I can share with you that my office has conducted almost two dozen investigations related to pay and allowance fraud allegations in the last three years. Specifically, these investigations proved that service members fraudulently claimed residency or rental amounts to receive funds for which they were not legitimately entitled.
Since that time, those investigations resulted in prosecutions of offenders, resulting in numerous felony convictions and the court-ordered recovery of more than $500,000 in fines and restitution from offenders. This process also shed light on poor bookkeeping practices of service members and their servicing institutions. Finally, as investigators, we were also able to disprove some allegations, exonerating those individuals who were suspected of committing financial crimes against the U.S. government.
Integrity and attention to detail
The Air Force Core Value of integrity is probably the single most important means to mitigate or put an end to pay and allowance fraud. Attention to detail is a motto imprinted and continually reinforced upon each and every Air Force member. Following these two means alone would eliminate this problem in a perfect word. It's just plain and simple:
- Pay attention and understand the documents that you sign and certify
- Don't make claims you aren't entitled to receive
- If you receive erroneous payments, notify your local finance office and/or leadership
- If you are not sure if a payment you received was in error, ask your local finance office for help
- Don't spend money that doesn't belong to you
- If you know of anyone else receiving funds for which they are not eligible, report it
Taking a step beyond exercising our integrity and paying attention to the details of our financial commitments, I can say that educating commanders, supervisors, and service members is also critical to safeguarding our reduced financial resources. My OSI team here on Guam continues to be available for educational briefings on a one-on-one, group or commander's call setting. Beyond the realm of education and prevention by OSI, the finance offices of the 36th Wing and 254th Air Base Group on Andersen Air Force Base can also address concerns of service members.
When OSI uncovers an allegation of a crime, any crime for which we have jurisdiction and a purview, we pursue those allegations thoroughly and vigorously. Law enforcement, after the fact, kicks in here. If our investigations lead to the disproval of allegations, we close those cases, inform prosecuting authorities, and move on to the next investigation.
Those investigations that turn up sufficient evidence of wrong-doing get pushed forward to a prosecuting authority for action. That prosecuting authority rests with the U.S. Attorney's office and by commanders' actions under the UCMJ. An interesting observation from the course of my experience in OSI is that when OSI finds evidence of personal culpability in these types of allegations, those cases at times also uncovered a lack of leadership involvement within the affected unit.
The lack of involvement I speak of merely suggests that sometimes individuals either look the other way, or at times blindly support those accused, when one is presented with knowledge of a "victimless crime." When I refer to leadership, my intention is to express that leadership can come from a first line supervisor, a shop chief, and at times even a superintendent, first sergeant or unit commander. The enforcement angle I emphasize in this passage isn't exclusively for the enforcement of the laws and regulations after the fact, but for the enforcement of our core values along the way. I believe if we set and enforced standards at our most local level (office, shop, work center), incidents of these crimes would be significantly reduced.
The environment here on Guam is unlike a typical stateside assignment, and unlike most other overseas assignments. Pay and allowance matters represent both ends of that spectrum on the island. With that said, it is vitally important that service members and their leaders are honest stewards of the funds entrusted to them. Believe it or not, OSI is here to help. Our mission is to identify and neutralize threats to the Air Force and Department of Defense. The misappropriation of hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars is a direct threat to our Air Force in these challenging financial times.
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