WASHINGTON – A top General Services Administration official told a House subcommittee Wednesday that the agency has reduced by 15 percent its backlog of reimbursement requests under the Army’s family assistance program, but the panel’s chairman said GSA “isn’t out of the woods yet.”
Last year, the Army Fee Assistance Program, administered by the General Services Administration, had a backlog of 25,900 cases, and also suffered security breaches that exposed 8,000 families’ personal information. The program processes fees for child care and other Army programs.
Since the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee’s first hearing on the matter in September, the backlog has been reduced, with 4,000 emails and backlogs resolved and most inquiries addressed within 24 hours, GSA Financial Officer Gerard Badorrek told the subcommittee.
Despite the GSA’s progress in the last few months, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that the GSA’s handling of the Army Fee Assistance Program still needs improvements. The GSA is mainly concerned with building, buying and managing buildings for the federal government.
In September, the subcommittee decided that the Army Fee Assistance program would transition back to its original administrator, Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit organization that ran program before it was assigned to GSA in 2014.
In the meantime — as of Dec. 21 — 1,600 family assistance cases remained unaddressed.
Stephanie Hoehne, director of family and morale, welfare and recreation for the Army, said the decision to transfer the program from its original contractor to the GSA in 2014 was “a good decision at the time.”
However, members of the subcommittee on government operations said it was a decision that cost the taxpayers $4 million and hurt military families.
“I am still troubled by this situation in the first place,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.
“The GSA has made shockingly bad decisions with the program,” said Connolly. “The state of the Army’s Fee Assistance Program … is precisely the sort of outrage that fuels public frustration with the federal government.”
GSA officials said the program should be back in the hands of Child Care Aware of America by this October.
Karmon Dyches, an Army research psychologist stationed in Silver Spring, Maryland, said the decision to return to the original organization gave her hope.
Child Care Aware of America was in charge of the program when her 2-year-old daughter was born.
“This is a huge sigh of relief,” said Dyches. “I had a baby and I didn’t know what to do, but the program was amazing.”
She had fallen behind on her child care payments.
“Today is hopefully a good sign that things are going in the right direction, “ she said. “Childcare is the biggest stresser for a mom, so this is a win.”