Civilian police officers serving at Camp Pendleton and Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook have been given until June to file waiver requests, after the federal government in March issued debt notices for tens of thousands of dollars following a nearly decade-long accounting glitch that led to them being overpaid.
About 100 officers began receiving letters March 23 demanding they return money they were overpaid between 2008 and 2016 due to the error. The officers originally were given until April 28 to come up with a payback plan or to request a waiver.
The announcement of the deadline extension came the same day U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Pentagon officials requesting the officers' debts be waived.
"Given that these officers received excess pay as a result of an administrative error made nearly a decade ago, we believe the Department's efforts to claw back these funds now is unfair," the letter from Harris and Feinstein stated.
A March 30 letter sent by Representatives Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach to the Department of Defense's Finance and Accounting Services, expressed similar concerns.
"As representatives for Camp Pendleton and surrounding Southern California region, we have an obligation to ensure this matter is expeditiously resolved," the letter stated.
Issa and Walters also questioned why the payment error had gone unnoticed for so long, whether DFAS had identified the party responsible for the error and if any waivers of repayment had been granted.
Due to an accounting error, federal officials say, the officers had been paid on the wrong pay scale.
The Navy Office of Civilian Human Resources -- which determines the rate of pay for their employees -- found an erroneous locality-based pay rate had been used to set pay for some employees for a period of time, said Steve Burghardt, spokesman for DFAS.
In April 2017, the police officers were notified by DFAS -- charged with processing payroll for civilians working for the Department of the Navy -- that the error had been discovered. They were told they would be required to return some amount, but exactly how much was unknown until an audit was conducted.
Individual debts range from $12,000 to $80,000. The average overpayment was $3,500 annually, according to Robert Richey, president of the police officer's union, the National Federation of Federal Employees
Richey, who owes $45,200, said he received a notice from DFAS on Tuesday, April 3 telling him of the waiver extension and that assistance will be provided by DFAS. He credits the letters from the senators and representatives for buying the officers more time.
Matt Hughes, of Mission Viejo, who on March 23 received a letter saying he owed nearly $40,000 for his work at Camp Pendleton, said the reprieve to file a waiver request offers hope.
When he received the debt collection letter, he said, the waiver wasn't given as an option. Instead, it requested full payback by April 28. An alternative was to set up a payment plan starting on that date. If Hughes did neither, it said, 15 percent of his earnings would be deducted from his paycheck starting April 28.
While Hughes said he hasn't seen anything in writing offering the extension until June, he's heard police officers in Fallbrook are getting help with their waiver requests.
"They told me HR came to the police station with their waiver packages already completed for them," Hughes said. "The officers just signed the forms and HR sent them to DFAS."
This article is written by Erika I. Ritchie from Orange County Register and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.