Months after a News4 I-Team investigation uncovered late payments and nationwide backlogs in a federal government daycare program for Army families, government administrators told a U.S. House panel Wednesday they’ve since fixed most of the problems.
The troubled program is the Army Fee Assistance Program, administered by the U.S. General Services Administration. The program provides subsidy payments to U.S. Army families that cannot find daycare on military posts and must instead use private providers. An I-Team investigation in July showed the program was suffering a backlog of over 11,000 unanswered phone messages and emails and 9,000 unpaid invoices. Those unpaid invoices forced Army families to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket, with little or no indication of when they would get reimbursed by the feds.
A GSA financial administrator told the U.S. House Oversight Committee the agency has since reduced the backlog. The agency hired a private contractor to administer the program beginning in February, to avoid future problems and late payments. The same contractor had operated the Army Fee Assistance program in prior years, before the General Services Administration assumed control of it.
The agency’s internal watchdog released a report this week saying almost all of the backlogged invoices, voice mails and emails had been dealt with. The Inspector General of the GSA reported approximately 250 unanswered emails and 1,200 unpaid invoices remaining.
One of the Army parents affected, U.S. Army Capt. Karmon Dyches of Frederick County, attended Wednesday’s congressional panel. Dyches told the I-Team in July she was suffering financial hardships because of late payments from the feds. She said the government has since processed her checks.
“As an Army family, you kind of tend to suck it up, and that’s what we were trying to do,” Dyches said.
Congressman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said GSA has made tremendous progress since Congress first addressed the problems in September.
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“There’s two ways things get done in Congress – slow and never -- and this is one of those that actually has exceeded my expectation,” Meadows said. “It makes a difference in family members’ lives, so we’re excited about that. We’re committed to making sure that the red tape here doesn’t affect their ability to serve the country.”
The Army will soon bring in a private contractor to take over running the daycare program. The contractor, Child Care Aware of America, had previously run the program from 2004 to 2014, before the GSA took over. Dyches said she is looking forward to the new era.
“I’m very excited to be back in [Child Care Aware’s] very capable hands,” she said.
The shift to the new contractor will be gradual. Families in the D.C. area will be shifted first, but those in other parts of the country will have to wait.
Carol Ochoa, GSA Inspector General, said the transition will be monitored carefully in order to make sure there is no further disruption to Army families.
“These folks are doing all that they can for this country,” Ochoa said. “They’re out there making sacrifices every day. They deserve to be doing that with peace of mind about what’s happening financially with their family at home.”
Approximately 10,000 US Army families will be transitioned from government administrators to the private contractor, Child Care Aware, by October, administrators said. The transition will shift almost 1,200 families each month, beginning with parents in the Washington, D.C., region.