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USDA Paid $36 Million to a Lot of Dead People

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C. Wikimedia Commons

The title of the GAO report really says it all: “USDA Needs to Do More to Prevent Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals.”

That stark pronouncement comes after a recent GAO audit discovered that three USDA agencies had made $36 million in improper payments to 6,336 dead people between 2008 and 2012.

The USDA spends $20 billion annually on programs that support 1 million participants through income assistance, crop insurance and disaster relief.  “Over the course of time, farmers who are enrolled in these programs may pass away,” GAO official Daniel Garcia-Diaz said on GAO’s Watchdog Report podcast. “If nobody notifies USDA or the agency doesn’t have any particular steps to identify deceased farmers, it’s possible that payments or other benefits may accrue to deceased individuals.”

Of the three agencies GAO scrutinized, only one had procedures in place to prevent improper payments to the dead. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) used a procedure that compared program participants against the Social Security Administration’s death rolls. This procedure allowed FSA to flag 28,613 deceased individuals, of which six percent, or 1,799 individuals, improperly received $3.3 million over two years—but $1 million has been recovered.

Two other agencies, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Risk Management Agency (RMA) didn’t fair as well. Neither agency had any procedure in place. The GAO audit found that, between 2008 and 2012, NRCS made $10.6 million in payments to individuals who had been dead for one year or more. Over the same period of time, RMA paid $22 million to the dead.

In the GAO’s report, the agency recommended that the three USDA agencies either tighten or, better yet, develop data-mining procedures that ensure payments aren’t being made to the deceased.

See the full report here.

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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