Army Dumping Contractor Behind Troubled Tuition Assistance Platform

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College pamphlets are laid out on a table.
College pamphlets are laid out on a table. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Donovan Lee).

The Army is dumping the company it contracted to run its platform administering education benefits for more than 100,000 soldiers, a site that has been cursed with technical issues with service leaders saying it has been flawed from the start.

In March 2021, the service launched ArmyIgnitED, a tool for soldiers to process their education benefits that is currently managed by professional services company Deloitte. That service was an attempt to modernize the now defunct GoArmyEd.

Yet, right out of the gate, ArmyIgnitED had major problems. Thousands of soldiers blasted the platform on social media for issues ranging from login difficulties to the site not having their college or degree program accessible and payment failures leading to at least 20,000 soldiers paying thousands of dollars out of pocket. Those issues promptly drew scorn from members of Congress and forced senior leaders to scramble to set up reimbursement programs for soldiers.

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"A year ago, there was a lot of frustration. Soldiers were paying out of pocket. We couldn't get logins. There were all kinds of issues," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, the service's top enlisted leader, said at a town hall with soldiers Friday.

"We haven't fixed them all; we still have a long way to go. We acknowledge right now we haven't solved all the issues," Grinston added. "I used [tuition assistance]. I'm a huge fan, and I would not have my degree if not for that. … It's important to you, it's important to me."

After the disastrous launch, issues still remain a year later, and the Army has decided it will no longer work with Deloitte, the contractor that runs the platform, once its contract expires in February 2023, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the situation. A Deloitte spokesperson confirmed that the contract won't be extended.

The service is expected to shift its education services to BAM Technologies, according to Tara Clements, an Army spokesperson. That company did not respond to a request for comment from Military.com.

"Deloitte will continue to perform on their current contract with ArmyIgnitED and assist with a smooth transition to the new platform," Clements told Military.com in a statement.

"We deeply appreciate Soldiers' service and sacrifice and know how important the Army's tuition assistance is to the men and women who serve," Karen Walsh, a Deloitte spokesperson, told Military.com in a statement. "Over the past year, in coordination with Army leadership, we have made enhancements to ArmyIgnitED to address specific concerns, improve Soldiers' experience, and expedite the reimbursement of tuition expenses."

Beyond the Army's tuition platform, Deloitte has a long record of taking on complicated IT projects. It was recently awarded a $106 million contract to develop an artificial intelligence hub for the Pentagon.

But the company has also struggled with other projects, such as a more than $600 million IT system for Rhode Island called the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, or UHIP. That system, launched in 2016, was supposed to integrate 48 state and federal benefit programs, including Medicaid, food assistance and subsidized child care.

The program immediately hit turbulence, with 300,000 mostly low-income Rhode Islanders unable to access critical government assistance. A state investigation found the system wasn't ready for launch and that Deloitte officials falsely told the state's governor that the platform was "all green."

"Although Deloitte was selected for its experience with these types of projects, it has not consistently adhered to industry best practices," found a 2017 report to then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is now the U.S. secretary of commerce. "The State too heavily relied on Deloitte's industry experience to ensure successful project delivery and therefore did not dedicate adequate State resources to appropriately oversee the vendor."

Later, Deloitte faced backlash in Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis' Medicaid department, the Agency for Health Care Administration, awarded the company $135 million to modernize its IT systems after it stumbled with an unemployment system.

In spring 2020, the Trump administration awarded Deloitte a $44 million no-bid contract to build a website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to manage inventory and schedule COVID-19 vaccines. The website performed poorly, which spurred most states to launch their own programs instead of using Deloitte's system for free.

In the meantime, soldiers are being told by service leaders to keep their colleges in the loop on any financial or registration hurdles due to ArmyIgnitED. Some schools also have specific rules against forcing late fee debts onto service members and vets using military benefits.

ArmyIgnitED is expected to stay online throughout the transition to a new contractor, with all of the site's features, including those that have been delayed, expected to be operational by early 2023, according to Clements. ArmyIgnitED's Facebook page is still peppered with complaints from dozens of soldiers almost daily.

"Go to your local education center; that counselor can liaise with the college that this is a military applicant and they will try to work it out," Command Sgt. Maj. Faith Alexander, the top enlisted leader for the Army's education systems, said at the town hall Friday. "Don't be like the one soldier from Fort Benning I saw that waited until his fifth notice."

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: Army Promises to Reimburse Soldiers Affected by Broken Tuition Assistance Website

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