The Army’s troubled new platform for administering education benefits will not be fully operational until late 2023, the service admitted last month in a report submitted to Congress.
The fiscal 2022 defense policy bill ordered the Army to provide an update on Army IgnitED’s faltering rollout. Army Times reviewed a copy of the report submitted to lawmakers in late March.
Issues with the program frustrated soldiers and senior leaders, and led to a desperate scramble to manually process education benefits where the Army initiated an exception-to-policy program that boiled down to asking colleges to be patient and wait for the Army to pay them.
Although IgnitED is partially functional now — primarily for tuition assistance at popular colleges who habitually work with military members — a significant number of troops have spoken out on social media about their struggles accessing the education benefits that federal law requires the Army to provide.
According to the report, the program will have “95% capability” for tuition assistance by Sept. 30 of this year. That will include “correction of critical...system defects,” the “transfer of critical legacy data” and other service improvements.
But some key functions of IgnitED still won’t work until around Sept. 30, 2023, the report said. That will include credentialing assistance, civilian professional development, and critical backend data links to personnel and finance systems.
The report also confirms that the Army still owes money to educational institutions and soldiers, including some who had to pay out-of-pocket for their educational expenses.
More than 110,000 soldiers routinely use these benefits, and Army University officials indicated last year that at least 81,000 took courses through the manual process, though it’s not clear how many are still owed reimbursement.
Some colleges will withhold completed degrees and transcripts from students with overdue unpaid balances on their accounts — and the Army owes balances for some troops dating back to spring 2021, according to social media posts.
The Army told Congress it estimates “all Soldiers will be reimbursed no later than” Sept. 30. Educational institutions will receive reimbursement “by first quarter 2023,” the report added.
Why did the platform launch falter?
The Deloitte-contracted platform replaced the old tuition assistance portal, GoArmyEd, in March 2021 after the service “determined that the cost to extend the GoArmyEd contract,” which IBM had held for more than 15 years, “was too expensive,” according to the report.
At the same time, the Army transferred administrative responsibility for tuition assistance from Human Resources Command to Training and Doctrine Command’s Combined Arms Center.
Despite spending two years in development, IgnitED “failed to operate as planned” at launch, the report admits, due to “a large amount of corrupt data” transferred from the old program to the new program.
Col. Charles Rambo, who oversaw the IgnitED implementation until his death from COVID-19 complications in September, told reporters in June that “we did not anticipate that it was going to be that difficult” to transfer data.
Much of the lost data was individual student information, including personalized degree plans, and course information submitted directly by educational institutions that couldn’t easily be replaced, a spokesperson told NBC News.
IgnitED thus almost immediately shut down, leaving manual exceptions-to-policy as the only way troops could access their benefits. A flurry of national media coverage followed in June as fed-up solders vented their frustrations with the process.
In June, Lt. Gen. Ted Martin, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, said “The buck stops here...[and] I humbly apologize to the Soldiers who have had any financial hardship because of this.”
The program relaunched in July with partial functionality, and more and more educational institutions have restored their data there since — but not all.
Army University officials, most notably Command Sgt. Maj. Faith Alexander, have been working to address lingering issues for troops affected by reimbursement or enrollment problems.
But users frequently report lackluster customer service within IgnitED, as well as frustration with additional legwork required to access their benefits that didn’t exist with GoArmyED.
According to the report, the Army plans to address those issues — and the outstanding bills — through continuing to re-collect data from educational institutions, in addition to “improved processes, added manpower, and system capability improvements.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.