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Archive for the ‘Research & Reports’ Category

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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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….”

Study: Seattle Schools’ family help program needs re-boot

by Matt Rosenberg October 2nd, 2013

There’s not yet any evidence the City of Seattle’s Family Support Program for at-risk students in Seattle Public Schools is improving academic outcomes, and changes in the program’s focus, worker training and performance metrics appear necessary, say University of Washington researchers who recently published their findings in the journal Advances in School Mental Health Promotion.

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.

U.S. report: global energy use to rise 56 percent by 2040

by Matt Rosenberg July 30th, 2013

Fueled by growth in emerging economies led by China and India, global energy usage between 2010 and 2040 will jump 56 percent while carbon dioxide emissions from energy use will rise 46 percent, according to the “reference case” 2013 International Energy Outlook released in full today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fossil fuels will continue to 2040 to provide almost four-fifths of global energy used, according to the outlook.

KIng County audit hastens fix pledges on accident pay-outs

by Matt Rosenberg July 9th, 2013

King County could do far better controlling public risk and related liability pay-outs in negligence cases, especially those related to Metro Transit and other transportation functions, according to a recent and wholly overlooked report from the King County Auditor’s Office. It accents “critical weaknesses” in current risk control strategies. These include baked-in lowballing of the real risk bill to county taxpayers due to ignoring workers compensation costs in taxpayer-funded tort liability settlements; and lack of an overall risk control system including thorough accident data tracking and related performance standards. Another shortcoming is insufficient driver safety training, the audit finds.

Outside of transportation, the audit says the county “will continue to face compliance and claims risks” because of its sub-par system for responding to public records requests, and that it must speed efforts to implement risk controls around incidences of excessive force by the King County Sheriff’s office, and cyber-secuirty vulnerabilities. Top officials say they’re implementing some changes already, and more are to come.