Improper Payment Rate Rises Despite New Crackdown

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said the government has made progress in addressing program duplication and fragmentation. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said the government has made progress in addressing program duplication and fragmentation. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP file photo

Despite years of effort and new tools under three federal statues, the governmentwide rate of improper payments in federal benefits programs actually rose in fiscal 2014, the comptroller general testified on Wednesday.

“For the first time in recent years, the governmentwide improper payment estimate significantly increased,” Gene Dodaro told the Senate Budget Committee.  Payment errors rose to $124.7 billion in fiscal 2014, up from $105.8 billion in fiscal 2013, GAO found. “This increase of almost $19 billion was primarily due to estimates for Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which account for over 76 percent of the governmentwide estimate,” Dodaro told lawmakers.

Other programs the Obama administration has targeted in its efforts to reduce errors  include unemployment insurance, Social Security income, supplemental nutrition and school lunches, direct loans for college and rental assistance.

In delivering the Government Accountability Office’s update on efforts to curb duplication and fragmentation in federal programs, Dodaro reported that the executive branch and Congress have made progress in addressing the approximately 440 actions across 180 areas that GAO identified in its past annual reports. As of Nov. 19, 2014, 29 percent of these actions were addressed, 44 percent were partially addressed and 22 percent were not addressed.

Attempts to root out duplication and fragmentation have saved as much as $20 billion in four years, with another $80 billion anticipated, as agencies use such tools as data mining to flag payment claims that might be fraudulent and a double-checking initiative called Do Not Pay.

Improper payments have been the subject of contentious hearings since the enactment of the 2002, 2010 and 2012 improper payments acts.

Under the new Republican-controlled Congress, more legislation may be coming. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said current administration efforts to list programs on a central website are not helping identify overlap. “Addressing these programs identified by GAO would help protect hardworking taxpayers by ensuring that spending programs do not duplicate each other,” he said.  “This would ensure that they focus on real needs and real results, which would make our government more efficient and more effective. In light of our chronic overspending and dangerous debt, we should act to consolidate duplicative spending programs that are spread across our government and in so doing, save taxpayers billions of dollars every year.”

He backed S. 236, the Duplication Elimination Act introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayote, R-N.H. It would require the president to submit to Congress a joint resolution implementing the GAO's recommendations on cutting redundancy and to provide Congress with a report that explains which GAO recommendations are excluded and the reason for their omission. Congress would then vote on the joint resolution.  

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