House approves improper payment legislation

The House approved a bill on Wednesday requiring the government to recover nearly $100 billion of taxpayer dollars lost annually due to improper payments.

The chamber approved the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., by voice vote. The bill, which now heads to a vote in the Senate, would mandate greater oversight of improper payments and penalize agencies that consistently fail to fix accounting mistakes.

"I am proud to pass this bill to ensure we cut down on wasteful government spending," Murphy said.

The legislation would require agencies to perform recovery audits on all their programs and to produce corrective action plans with targets to reduce overpayment errors.

Improper payments are defined as money going to the wrong recipient; an incorrect amount going to a recipient; funds used in an improper manner; or missing documentation explaining why a payment was made.

The bill stems from an April 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office that found an estimated $72 billion in federal improper payments in fiscal 2008 -- roughly 4 percent of the $1.8 trillion of documented outlays for those related programs. The watchdog discovered the figure actually should be higher, but some programs were not tracked adequately.

The White House on Wednesday released a statement praising the House for approving the bill.

The Senate will consider its version of the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. The bill has support from Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

"The sooner we pass this legislation the more taxpayer money we can save," Carper said on Wednesday.

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