Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced the measure.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced the measure. Cliff Owen / AP file photo

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Congress Backs Crackdown on $125B in Improper Payments to the Dead, Others

Lawmakers temper expectations for actual savings from soon-to-be law.

Agencies will soon have more resources to ensure they do not dole out improper payments to beneficiaries of federal programs, including the deceased, with Congress approving a bill on Monday to boost coordination to prevent errors.

The House unanimously passed the Improper Payments Coordination Act, which will now head to the White House for President Obama’s signature. The measure will expand the governmentwide “Do Not Pay” program, which was created in 2013 to streamline the various lists of entities not entitled to federal payments.

Despite two laws enacted since 2010 to curb wasteful expenditures by federal agencies, improper payments increased 18 percent from fiscal 2013 to $125 billion in fiscal 2014, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who championed the previous two efforts at cutting federal agencies’ disbursements to individuals who should not be receiving them as well as the new update, has said his bill would give federal officials the tools they need to “identify and prevent” improper payments.

"We have a responsibility to demand that federal agencies do a better job managing federal programs and delivering services more efficiently, and at a lower cost," Carper, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said when he introduced the measure earlier this year. "Although federal agencies have made improvements over the past several years, improper payments continue to cost taxpayers billions of dollars and undermine the effectiveness of the services Americans rely upon.”

The bill, pending Obama’s signing, will expand the use of the Do Not Pay list to the judicial and legislative branches, as well as state governments and their contractors. It will improve sharing among federal agencies of information on the databases that make up the list, and provide guidance for reporting deaths of U.S. citizens abroad. It will require the Treasury Department to report to Congress on how it is using data analytics to identify improper and duplicative payments.

Lawmakers have conceded the ultimate savings from the measure will likely not be all that significant; in a report on the bill, the governmental affairs committee said more than 80 percent of improper payments stem from entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which the bill will not address.

“In fact,” the lawmakers wrote, “no measures used by OMB or evidence from the Government Accountability Office indicate that focusing on correcting improper payments would lead to a significant reduction in federal spending.”