Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Federal Government’ Category

WA Transit Agencies Lag on Fare-box Recovery Ratios

by Matt Rosenberg December 9th, 2013

Washington state public transit agencies in 2012 badly lagged the national average in paying their own way for operating costs. Reports from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the National Transit Database show respectively that the 30 Evergreen State public transit agencies received just 13.6 percent of their operating revenues from fare payments versus an aggregate of 33 percent for all 824 transit agencies reporting nationwide. However, in Washington, transit system van pools had a remarkably strong financial performance, earning a full four-fifths of operating costs from riders.

U.S. Fed: Seattle a Gentrification Hub – And That’s Good

by Matt Rosenberg December 4th, 2013

Could much-maligned “gentrification” actually be a rising tide that lifts all boats economically, including in Seattle? A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland suggests so. It says that out of the 55 largest cities in the U.S. in 2000, Seattle ranks second in the percent of central city, low-priced-housing Census tracts that based on data from the 2005 to 2009 American Community Survey subsequently gentrified, or moved overall into the top half of median home price in the broader metro area. Moreover, says the study, gentrification is associated with higher credit scores for residents whether they own their homes or not, and even if they move elsewhere.

EPA to WA: Get Smarter on Puget Sound Transpo Policy

by Matt Rosenberg November 17th, 2013

For its Environmental Impact Statement on proposed all-lanes electronic tolling of part of I-90, Washington should consider not just a single alternative but a package of them carefully picked from the current menu which includes a regional vehicle mileage tax (VMT), more transit funding, and widening I-90; as well as a broader regional tolling plan, heavier tolling on 520 than now, and a state gas tax hike. So says the Environmental Review Manager of the U.S. EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10 office in a recent letter to the state. Meanwhile, the City of Mercer Island, at the center of growing opposition to I-90 tolls, is voicing support for a gas tax hike alternative favored by the State Senate Majority, while also signaling openness to a compromise involving HOT lanes, or partial tolling on the highway, free to multi-occupant vehicles and available to solo drivers for a toll. Like the EPA, the city is accenting the need to consider several alternatives implemented together.

CRS: U.S. Improper Payments At Least $688B Since ‘04

by Matt Rosenberg November 1st, 2013

Improper payments by U.S. government agencies were at least $115 billion in fiscal 2011 and $108 billion in 2012 but billions more may be misspent each year – under the radar of government watchdogs – according to a recent report from the non-partisan research arm of the U.S. Congress called the Congressional Research Service. The partial total has grown in dollar terms from $45 billion in 2004 to a cumulative $688 billion through last year. In percentage terms improper payments are now are at least 4.35 percent of U.S, government annual spending, equal to 2004 but down from a spike to 5.42 percent in 2009 and 5.29 percent in 2010.

From Improper Payments and Recovery Audits: Legislation, Implementation, and Analysis, Congressional Research Service, October, 2013

Definitions, Please
Improper payments are classified as those that shouldn’t have occurred or were for an inaccurate sum, including both over- and under-payments. They may have been made to recipients not eligible based on qualifications or lack of documentation; or for goods or services that were’t actually transmitted. They also include duplicate payments or ones that failed to factor in valid discounts.

Cashing Social Security Checks of Dead Relatives
One example of how improper payments occur is when the Social Security Administration is slow to verify the reported death of a beneficiary because the death notice comes from a “less accurate” source such as a post office, bank, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or Medicare/Medicaid. As it takes time – often years and years – to verify the reported death, SSA may continue to send checks to the decedent’s address. These may then be cashed by other individuals such as family members or caregivers. Public records show the problem is fairly endemic.

A Nationwide Problem
Four different Western Washington defendants pled guilty to Social Security fraud in the first half of this year stemming from payments they received on behalf of dead people.

A host of other such cases, specifically involving alleged or admitted theft of social security benefits intended for the deceased are also archived at the investigations section of the Web site of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Inspector General. Going back only to May 1 of this year are cases involving charges, guilty pleas or convictions in Ohio (sentenced); Mississippi (guilty plea); New Mexico (charged); Washington, D.C. (sentenced); California (sentenced); Oregon (sentenced); (charged); Illinois (sentenced); Illinois (guilty plea); New York (guilty plea); New York (sentencing); Oregon (guilty plea); New Hampshire (guilty plea); and California – Deputy Riverside County Prosecutor (charged).

HHS Central to the Improper Payments Problem
Improper payments tied to federal health care benefits figured in prominently to a detailed year-end 2012 report from the HHS Inspector General that the agency could save $23 billion per year if previously recommended reforms were implemented. And just today the HHS OIG reported on $29 million in improper Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit paid from 2009 through 201 to illegal residents, in violation of federal law.

So Too, Treasury’s Earned Income Tax Credit
Another prominent example: The Treasury Department’s Earned Income Tax Credit program has seen at least $100 billion in improper payments from federal fiscal years 2003-2011.

From paymentaccuracy.gov

The new CRS reports explains improper payments have mounted due partly to “…agencies’ failure to reduce substantially the error rates for risk-susceptible federal programs with multi-billion annual outlays. In some cases, error rates for these programs have actually increased over time. Moreover, the full extent of the improper payment problem is not known because agencies have yet to develop improper payment rates for some programs, including programs which (the U.S. Office of Management and Budget) estimates may have annual improper payments of $750 million annually.”

According to the Programs Not Reported section of the paymentaccuracy.gov transparency and reporting site now mandated by federal legislation, examples of non-reporting programs include HHS’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, the High Cost Program of the Universal Service Fund of the Federal Communications Commission, and Treasury’s Earned Income Tax Credit Program, which actually does report some improper payments but not nearly all that are thought to be likely. These three are developing plans to more accurately report their improper payments.

Public Data Ferret’s U.S. Government+Management archive

Other Culprits – Unemployment, Social Security, School Lunch Program
An interactive ascending/descending-rank table from paymentaccuracy.gov shows which agencies have the highest amounts of improper payments by dollar and as a percent of spending. On a percentage basis, the Earned Income Tax Credit had the highest rate of improper payments in 2012 at 22.7 percent, followed by the National School Lunch Program, Medicare Advantage Part C, Unemployment Insurance, and Social Security.

Key Fixes Seen
Recommended remedies include removing “statutory or regulatory barriers…to perform recovery audits,” and correcting poor information sharing between agencies on matters such as benefits eligibility, says the CRS report.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

U.S. Study: Global Challenges For WA in Math, Science

by Matt Rosenberg October 25th, 2013

A first-time ever comparison of academic achievement between U.S. states and foreign countries – focused on eighth grade math and science mastery – shows Washington’s rankings are above average globally and nationally but still have a long way to go. Released just this week, the report “U.S. States in a Global Context” from the U.S. government’s Center for Education Statistics shows that Washington eighth-graders on average ranked behind 15 other states in math results and also that their predicted offshore rankings lagged seven of the 47 foreign nations or foreign subdivisions included in study results. The Evergreen state was also bested in average science scores by 21 other U.S. states as well as in predicted global standings by Taipei, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Alberta, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, and Singapore.

Congressional Budget Office: Hey USA, Pick Your Poison

by Matt Rosenberg October 7th, 2013

The charged public debate over yet another U.S. debt ceiling lift is just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s tussles over near-term U.S. borrowing capacity only foreshadow deeper federal fiscal challenges. A recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office stressed that federal debt has worsened greatly since fiscal year-end 2008, and absent bold intervention will jump dramatically as health care and other entitlements continue to escalate, and new costs grow from U.S. health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. “That trajectory for federal debt would ultimately be unsustainable,” CBO says.

The CBO report says, “Federal debt held by the public stood at 39 percent of GDP at the end of 2008, close to its average of the preceding several decades. Since then, large deficits have caused debt held by the public to grow sharply – to a projected 73 percent of GDP by the end of 2013. Debt has exceeded 70 percent of GDP during only one other period in U.S. history: from 1944 through 1950, when it spiked because of a surge in federal spending during World War II….”

What’s Open, Closed During U.S. Government Shutdown

by Matt Rosenberg October 1st, 2013

The U.S. government today is shut down due to a Congressional budget impasse on continued funding in the new fiscal year but of 34 very public-facing agencies or programs listed in a special update from USA.gov, 18 are still open, nine more are partially open and seven are closed. Shuttered are national parks and landmarks, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., presidential libraries, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution. Loans by the Small Business Administration aren’t being processed, nor are new home loan guarantees by the Federal Housing Administration,

Open for Business
Still operating during the shutdown are food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); federal grants to states for low-income women, infants and children; the Federal Aviation Administration including air traffic controllers; the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Air Marshall Service; State Department travel warnings; border patrol and cargo security; citizenship and immigration services; immigration enforcement; the Coast Guard; the Federal Emergency Management Agency; federal courts; the Federal Reserve; meat and poultry inspections; FAFSA student loan processing; the Health Insurance Marketplace; mail and postal service; the patent and trademark office; and the National Weather Service.

Partly or Mostly Open
Limited personnel are on duty at the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. Updated U.S. government job information will continue to be posted online but some applications may be slowed. Medicare and Medicaid benefits will continue to be paid but “could be affected in the event of an extended shutdown.” Medical care for veterans goes on but some benefit programs “may be affected.”

The military is still in operation but Department of Defense civilian employees deemed non-essential are not reporting to work. Clinical trials already in progress at the National Institutes of Health continue but new trials aren’t being initiated and new patients are not being accepted at NIH’s clinical center. Expedited passport orders are being fulfilled but new passport applications are not.

RELATED: “Affordable Care Act and the Appropriations Process,” U.S. Congressional Research Service, 9/27/13.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.