Fraudulent payments associated with a National Guard program that boosted lagging recruitment numbers at the height of the war in Iraq may top $50 million, Army officials said today.
Investigators have so far determined that $29 million in fraudulent payments were made as part of the National Guard's Recruiting Assistance Program, or G-RAP.
Senior Army officials told a congressional panel looking into fraudulent claims paid out by the program that it could take Army investigators another two years to determine the full extent of the fraud.
Major General David Quantock, who heads the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, told the panel that 60 full-time investigators still have to review about 20,000 of the more than 106,000 payments made under the $459 million program.
The program ceased operations in 2012 after Army auditors discovered as many as 1,200 cases of potential fraud.
"I cannot begin to express how disappointed and angry I am to hear of such carelessness with taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, who chairs the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The National Guard implemented G-RAP in 2005 as a way of reversing sagging recruitment numbers. Two years later it was cited as the main reason for the Guard having exceeded its annual recruitment goals. The active duty Army and Reserves soon implemented smaller versions of the program.
G-RAP allowed soldiers or "recruiting assistants" to collect what was essentially a $2,000 finder's fees for recommending a potential recruit for service in the National Guard.
Some of the fraud involved Guard recruiters, who were barred from receiving the payments, who in return for a kickback passed a recruit's information to family, friends or fellow soldiers so they could collect the payments, investigators said.
Other cases of fraud involved recruiting assistants who were high school guidance counselors who collected payments for students they knew were already intending to join the Guard.
Retired Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, who launched the program, lauded its success at today's hearing. "Don't lose sight of the fact it was a tremendous recruiting program, and we got the people," said Vaughn.
Vaughn noted that "98.5 percent of our great soldiers and some of the greatest patriots in America did the right thing and it was some dunderheads, about 1.5 percent, that caused this problem."
McCaskill, D-Mo., agreed that the program was successful but said "you can't do this kind of program without fraud control."
She noted that in some states "it looked like a free-for-all, and then other states where it appeared that there wasn't this rampant amount of fraud."
Lieutenant General William T. Grisoli, director of the Army Staff, told the committee that the program was completely decentralized with little oversight of payments made by state Guards. The decentralization meant some states were better able to manage the program than others.
Philip Crane, president of Docupak, explained for the committee the various controls that his company had in place to vet online claims by recruiting assistants, including as many as 25,000 to 30,000 phone calls to verify their information.
But Crane said that in hindsight a verification email to potential soldiers asking them to certify that they had in fact been recommended for service by an applicant "would have gone a long ways."
"This is what kills me about this, you guys," said McCaskill. " This is, like, basic. I mean, you just assumed that whoever was typing this in was telling the truth and nobody ever checked to see if they were lying. I mean, you're handing out millions of dollars, no questions asked."
So far, 104 cases of fraud have been adjudicated, officials said.
The active duty Army does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute acts of wrongdoing by Guard recruiters who were not on active duty at the time. That means it will be up to the individual state Guards or civilian prosecutors to prosecute any cases. Yet, time for prosecution may be slipping away as the statute of limitations for some of the oldest cases is nearing.