23 January 2010

Defence Pay: Overpayments of combat pay

The Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. John Faulkner, announced on Friday 22 January that 63 Defence personnel recently returned from overseas have been overpaid Overseas Campaign Allowance in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $9,000.

Senator Faulkner’s media release says that the cause of the overpayments was a manual input error where information was not correctly loaded into the pay system.

Senator Faulkner concludes:

This pay error is regrettable. Defence has already taken a number of measures to solve other payment and allowance problems. Defence moved last year to upgrade the Human Resources and Payroll system used to administer permanent and reserve military and civilian workforce through a comprehensive technical refresh. Defence is also moving as a priority to replace the personnel ICT system through Joint Project 2080.

Two comments:

(1)  There is no “technical refresh “ of the pay system that will overcome manual input errors. There must always be an interface between the real world and the computational processes that generate the pay and allowances of Defence personnel; the pay system can only manipulate the data that is fed to it by fallible human beings. I hope that no-one is suggesting otherwise to Senator Faulkner.

(2)  The last major attempt to rectify the Defence pay system (PMKeys), was abandoned in late 2002 after suffering major delays and massive cost over-runs. It was meant to save $100 million per annum over ten years, but instead of becoming a source of savings for re-investment in Defence, it became a financial sink (see Defence Savings: The Strategic Reform Program). If there is any reason to believe that the next attempt will be more successful than the last, I have yet to hear it. 

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