Homeland Security Told to Beef Up Safeguards Against Improper Payments

Watchdog finds that ICE has highest percentage of unwarranted payouts.

The Homeland Security Department could do better in preventing its share of the estimated $125 billion in improper payments by federal agencies in fiscal 2010, a watchdog found.

In allowing some $210 million of unwarranted funds out the door in 2011, the department missed opportunities to conduct recovery audits in all components except the Coast Guard, the DHS inspector general’s office found in a new report.

Auditors’ review of the department’s compliance with the 2002 and 2010 Improper Payments Elimination acts found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had by far the highest amount of estimated improper payments at $108 million, and the highest percentage in relation to its overall constituent population, at 8.12 percent.

Next highest in wrong payments was the Federal Emergency Management Agency, at $68 million, but only 1.83 percent of its population.

“Although DHS met all the reporting requirements of the [Improper Payments Elimination Act], it did not meet its annual reduction targets established for each high-risk program as required by the Office of Management and Budget,” the watchdog wrote. “As a result, we concluded that DHS did not fully comply with IPERA.”

The IG made six recommendations to the chief financial officer to improve reporting, controls and data accuracy in efforts to recover improper payments, among them that “components target those improper payment categories that have a higher potential for overpayment and recoveries for recovery audits, when cost-effective.”

Department managers agreed and have implemented all six.