Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

Ex-WSP Trooper To Pay $60K For Alleged Pension Scam

by Matt Rosenberg January 17th, 2014

Several years after the allegations prompted headlines, and more than a year after he settled a related misdemeanor case for official misconduct in King County Superior Court, a former Washington State Trooper who allegedly gamed his state pension payout through misclassifying overtime hours he worked in 2010 and 2011 has quietly settled an ongoing state ethics probe by agreeing with his signature to pay a $60,000 fine, while admitting no guilt. The action came in an administrative determination known as a “stipulation” approved this week by the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, with ex-WSP Lieutenant William Blythe Gardiner, now 52. Public records show his last known voter registration address is in Sammamish.

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.

Ex-Highline College cleaning supe to pay $8K ethics fine

by Matt Rosenberg December 2nd, 2013

A former custodial supervisor at Highline Community College has agreed to pay an $8,000 fine in a civil settlement with the Washington State Executive Ethics Board for allegations he used public property for his private business and personal use, in apparent violation of the state Ethics in Public Service Act. Signing an ethics board “stipulation” or settlement document and agreeing to pay the $8,000 fine is Tang T. Nguyen. The case was set in motion with a report to the ethics board from the college a year ago shortly after Nguyen had already resigned.

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.


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Concessionaire owes Seattle Port $635K, auditors report

by Matt Rosenberg October 8th, 2013

Port of Seattle Sea-Tac Airport concession operator HMS Host owes the port $635,704 in unpaid fees, interest and a late fee, according to a recently released port internal audit. The problem arose because HMS Host subtenants The Great American Bagel Bakery and Diva Espresso were misclassified as “branded food” concessionaires who get a discount of about two percent in the share of revenues they must fork over to the airport for the privilege of operating there. Port managers of airport concessions and business development said in the audit they hadn’t been aware of the current problem. But they added they’d seek “appropriate” recovery of funds owed by HMS Host, and would keep closer tabs on branded food sales by concessionaires and related rates of concession payments to the port.

Study: Pre-Pregnancy Drinking Boosts Breast Cancer Risks

by Matt Rosenberg September 4th, 2013

A new study funded by the National Cancer Institute finds that between the onset of menstruation and first pregnancy the risk of breast cancer for women grows 11 percent for each 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day and 34 percent if average consumption equals 15 grams per day, or about 1.3 drinks. Even for non-drinking women, the longer the gap between start of menstruation and first pregnancy, the greater the breast cancer risk: the study said women who reported no alcohol consumption at all but waited more than 10 years between menstruation onset and first pregnancy, had a 26 percent increased risk of breast cancer. There are a range of other risk factors. These appear to include certain types of oral contraceptives, according to a report from Seattle-area researchers last year.