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'Deadly' report details federal waste

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Updated 4:42 p.m. ET
Just in time for Halloween, a new Republican study finds the federal government has paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000.

The aptly timed report, "Federal Programs to Die For: American Tax Dollars Sent Six Feet Under," (see below) was prepared by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a vocal critic of government waste, fraud and abuse.

"Nothing represents the stupidity of wasteful Washington spending more than directing a billion taxpayer dollars to the deceased," Coburn said Thursday. "This practice is disgraceful and, in many cases, robs the living of promised benefits."

Aides said none of the findings are new and that the report is mostly a ghoulish reminder of wasteful government spending and fraud committed by living people who pretend to be dead. Some examples:

-- $18 million in economic stimulus funds sent to 71,688 dead people by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and another $40.3 million in questionable benefit payments to 1,760 dead people. At least some of the stimulus money has been recouped.

-- $3.9 million sent to 11,000 dead people by the Department of Health and Human Services to help pay heating and cooling costs. An audit faulted the federal government for not providing instructions to the states on how to avoid fraud.

-- $1.1 billion in farming subsidies sent to dead farmers by the Agriculture Department.

-- $15.2 million in housing subsidies sent by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to 3,995 households with at least one dead person.

-- Medicare paid as much as $92 million in claims for medical supplies prescribed by dead doctors and $8.2 million for medical supplies prescribed for dead patients.

At least some, but not all, of the money in the examples listed above was reclaimed by the government.

Coburn concludes that Congress is as much to blame as the executive branch: "We have fallen short of our solemn duty to oversee government operations," he writes in the report. "This report finds room for improvement across the government, but nowhere are the shortcomings more glaring than on Capitol Hill."

The Office of Management and Budget responded Friday to Coburn's report on its blog, highlighting several steps the administration has taken to trim government waste.

"Whether the budget is in surplus or in deficit, we cannot tolerate the wasting of taxpayer dollars - and there are few more egregious examples of waste than improper payments," OMB said. "These are payments made by the government to the wrong person, at the wrong time, or in the wrong amount, and last year, they totaled approximately $110 billion."

The Agriculture Department said Friday that the vast majority of its payments are made properly. In 2007, less than 2 percent of payments to deceased farmers were made in error, in 2008 only .008 percent of payments and .007 percent in 2009.

"We have nearly eliminated incorrect payments to those who are deceased and we will continue to investigate allegations of fraud or abuse," USDA spokesman Justin DeJong said.

The government had made about $182 million in payments to dead people in the last three years, OMB said. Overall, the federal government misspent almost $110 billion in fiscal year 2009 by sending benefits checks to dead people, responding to fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid claims and overpaying government contractors.

President Obama in June ordered OMB to develop a government-wide "do not pay" database to ensure agencies no longer send money to dead or incarcerated people and debarred or suspended contracting firms. He also signed a law in July that penalizes agencies for failing to detect and stop such payments.

The "do not pay" database is supposed to rely on SSA's Death Master File, but agency officials admitted last year that it is fraught with errors, Coburn's report said.

"We welcome Senator Coburn's highlighting of this important issue, and look forward to continue working with Congress to reduce improper payments, combat fraud, cut waste, and make government more effective and efficient," OMB said.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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"Federal Programs to Die For: American Tax Dollars Sent Six Feet Under"

Federal Programs To Die For

By Ed O'Keefe  | October 29, 2010; 4:30 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Eye Opener, Oversight  
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Posted by: davidmason29 | October 29, 2010 5:25 AM | Report abuse

I think there's a whole lot more 'accountability' which is not yet accounted for.

If all that money is being sent to dead people, who is signing the checks, and which bank is cashing the checks and/or accepting the deposits into dead people's accounts? Why haven't the banks closed those dead people's accounts?
If this is the case, then I think the Federal Govt. must find a way to recoup the money from those who are fraudulently collecting the money. The wet-noodle "we didn't know" excuse is no longer acceptable.

If the checks are being printed, yet not cashed, then the 'money' is (supposedly)still in the federal treasury.

If the money allegedly sent to dead people is being diverted to yet-undisclosed recipients, then there is a bigger problem.

Posted by: momof20yo | October 29, 2010 6:00 AM | Report abuse

This article offers no context. What are the total payouts of which this $1B is a subset. The real question is what is the error rate. No program has zero errors. Further, assume the fact that Wapo knows about these payments means the Fed Govt. knows and retrieved them.

Posted by: creamy | October 29, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

and just think...Americans are about to put a dead party back into power!

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | October 29, 2010 7:30 AM | Report abuse

I agree with momof20yo. Some government accountant(s) knows that this money never left the bank, that the checks were never cashed.

If the Republicans don't know that this money is still in the US bank, then they're just as guilty of carelessness as the senders of the checks.

Posted by: HookedOnThePost | October 29, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Republicans blame Congress as well as the Obama Administration? Charitable. Remind me again -- who was in the White House from 2000-2008? And FY 2009 started before the 2008 election.... that would have been spending under the last administration's budget.

Posted by: capecodner424 | October 29, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

How's this for government waste: $900 billion spent just this year by the Pentagon, when our greatest danger actually comes from an angry computer programmer living in Ashburn whose wife runs Hip Muslim Moms.

I guess I don't mind that intelligence has spent $80 billion this year, because intelligence will keep us out of wars. Good intelligence would have prevented 9/11. I'm assuming $80 billion is for start-up projects since we're just now getting our acts together.

But $900 billion to keep soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and for planes and guns and $100,000 tents and $400 camouflaged sneakers? No thanks.

Posted by: HookedOnThePost | October 29, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Priceless is that the crony business partners get the war chest monies with impunities.

Posted by: ohwell1 | October 29, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

One of the main problems is that it's the States, and sometimes even the counties and cities, that get official death reports. Federal agencies have to rely on these entities and funeral homes and family members to report deaths. So do we want another yet another centralized, Federal data base that would gather death information, or do we want to leave it at the State and local level with some resulting inefficiencies?

Posted by: yostwl1 | October 29, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

One of the main problems is that it's the States, and sometimes even the counties and cities, that get official death reports. Federal agencies have to rely on these entities and funeral homes and family members to report deaths. So do we want another yet another centralized, Federal data base that would gather death information, or do we want to leave it at the State and local level with some resulting inefficiencies?

Posted by: yostwl1 | October 29, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

I didn't know there were so many dead Democrats on the government rolls.

Posted by: richard36 | October 29, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

"Coburn concludes that Congress is as much to blame as the executive branch: "We have fallen short of our solemn duty to oversee government operations," he writes in the report. "This report finds room for improvement across the government, but nowhere are the shortcomings more glaring than on Capitol Hill."" and you think that business on wall street need less regulation Senator Coburn???

Posted by: edeckel | October 29, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

It'll be a cold day in Hades when the Teahadists do anything to cut farm welfare.

Can you image farmers having to work in the free enterprise system? After generations of collectivist socialism, they wouldn't know what to do. No more calling the People's Commissar of Socialism when the checks are late. Heaven forbid!

BTW, New Zealand embraced capitalism for farmers, and New Zealand's farmers are doing quite well, thank you.

Posted by: Garak | October 29, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

obama can't wait for thye 55% death tax on people leaving over $1 million!

More of our money to waste. But heck, it's not HIS money.

Posted by: cibor | October 29, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Appalling this money has gone to dead people.

Also appalling is Republican's believing fixing things like this will significantly reduce the deficit.

Further appalling is the fact that Republicans cannot detail any federal program cuts that will significantly decrease the deficit.

As long as defense and entitlement programs are off limits the deficit will never get fixed. By either Party.

Posted by: HillRat | October 29, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Stimulus we can believe in. Sorta like Rethuglican give-a-ways to Pharma, Defense and the Financial Industries.

Posted by: wesatch | October 29, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

So, who's cashing the checks? I can't be the "real", oh so honest, American public. Must be those dishonest American corpses.

Posted by: Frazil | October 29, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

The door to the taxpayer's safe is left wide open and the thieves know it. Heaven help us.

Posted by: bandcyuk | October 29, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

momof20yo - It seems the big driver on this is farm subsidies. My assumption is that these checks are probably being cashed by the dead farmers' respective co-op's and/or unions.

The point not touched on in this post - which someone mentioned - is the context of these findings. The $1.1B number is huge, but the others are relatively small. What is the error rate and what would it cost to fix the problem? For example, would it cost $500M in software and $30M/per year in staffing and maintenance costs to fix a problem that is costing $8M.

Posted by: BT23 | October 29, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

This story is so full of holes, I'm no longer surprised that it came from the Washington Post.

If, on average, 40,000 people die in the United States in a single day, don't you think there's a chance that the Federal government wasn't immediately notified of that fact and checks were mailed out.

In a one month period 1.2 million people could have died, and then had a check amounting to $151.00 being sent to that dead person to cover $182 million.

Senator Tom Coburn is an opportunist looking to place the blame on anyone but himself.

Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | October 29, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Look at the dates listed: 2000. That's 8 years under a Republican president who had plenty of time to put his followers into positions at the relevant Federal agencies. But since they were more concerned with ideological purity than they were with competence, we got what we paid for.

And I'd take Coburn more seriously if he hadn't regularly voted to carry on two wars off the books (outside normal budgetary procedures) without his usual rant about where the money was going to come from.

Posted by: jamalmstrom | October 29, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Could the payments to the dead be compensation because the insurance death panels, brought to you by the republicans, canceled their health insurance causing their death.

Posted by: SanchosR | October 29, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

spending money = stimulus
paying dead people = raise the dead

Posted by: getjiggly1 | October 29, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

"Nothing represents the stupidity of wasteful Washington spending more," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R).
And he is part of it.

Keeping a count of how much wasteful and stupid spending occurred under the Cheney/Bush Rule is perhaps beyond his comprehension and the pay-grade.

Posted by: kishorgala | October 29, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Just in time for Halloween, a new Republican study finds the federal government has paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000.

The aptly timed report, "Federal Programs to Die For: American Tax Dollars Sent Six Feet Under,"
That's a whopping $400/person/year!

Or $1/taxpayer/year assuming there are 100 million taxpayers.

Imagine how many candies could have been bought as Halloween treats!

And you thought the politicos are useless!

Keep it up Senator!

Posted by: kishorgala | October 29, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

It would be nice if the senator could investigate the $9 billion that went wmiision in Iraq.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | October 29, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse


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Posted by: itkonlyyou341 | October 29, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Seems like a very low error rate to me. The Federal government spending over the last 10 years is well over 20 trillion. One billion is an exceptionally low error rate.

Put in perspective, one Billion pays for less than a week in Afghanistan. Most auditor reports on reconstruction spending in the Iraq war pointed to literally billions in waste, loss, and theft due to extremely poor military controls. The Republican response was to attempt to abolish the Inspector General for Iraq office.

Posted by: chucko2 | October 29, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

If this started in 2000, why didn't Coburn spend any of the eight years of the Bush administration tracking it down and exposing it?

Let me do a little math like there was a Republican president during 80 per cent of this time period. And a Republican Congress during 60 percent of it. And Coburn has been in long, exactly? Six years in Congress (1994 to 2000) and six years in the Senate (2004 to now).

Hey, good job, Tom.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | October 29, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Did the reporter vet the claims of the report? I've seen a lot of these things come out where the politician made deceptive claims and counted on the media to report it without question.

Posted by: mhardy1 | October 29, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to say from the information presented in this article, but it sounds like the average annual amount the federal government sent to dead people over the past three years is about $61 million. This is from total expenditures of about $3 trillion, so that's roughly .002% of annual federal spending going to dead people for each of the past three years, not including the amounts repaid to the government or not really spent at all because the checks weren't cashed. Yes, the absolute amounts of money are large, but is anyone going to argue that some other large organization could do better than over 99.9% accuracy in issuing payments?

If the Republicans are serious about balancing the budget, they certainly didn't show it for the 8 years that they controlled the White House and the Congress.....but just in case they're looking for REAL way to balance the federal budget:

1.) End the Bush tax cuts - this does about 20% of the job all by itself

2.) Remove the income cap on Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes

3.) Adjust (slightly) the way in which Social Security payments are indexed to inflation (many economists think that the current method overstates inflation)

3.) Cut defense spending by 10% (we already spend more than the next 12 highest-spending nations combined)

4.) Wind down TARP - the Republicans created it in the first place

5.) Increase taxes on imported oil/increase CAFE - and put some of the money into tax breaks for nuclear, natural gas, and other forms of non-oil domestic energy development (this has the added benefit, if we were to end imports of oil, of reducing our balance of payments problem by 40%)

Of course, they will do none of the above. Screaming about spending less than .002% of the federal budget by sending payments to dead people is a lot more fun than making actual decisions.

Posted by: Bob22003 | October 29, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

the real money -- $1.1B -- is all agricultural subsidies, which are owed to the owner of the property. if someone dies but the estate has not yet transferred the title (big inheritance issues), the check would still be written to the owner of record, who is dead but whose estate is still financially running the farm.

How loud would Coburn scream if the govt cut off agricultural subsidies the second someone dies? leaving the family stranded? oh, perfect.

Posted by: justkiddingdc | October 29, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

What the republicans are going to tell us, after reading this article, is that they are planning to dig out all those dead people to show the voters they are telling the truth. They better do it before halloween, because they could find some of them alive, they would step of them and tell them: "you are not alive, you are baddly buried".
Being serious, a bigger issue is the fact that the Pentagon and the CIA have been paying billions per month to make believe friends in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, contracing companies such as Xe (Halliburton/Cheney), mercenary armies, etc, etc., since papa Bush started Operation Desert Storm, and baby Bush invaded Iraq looking for the immaginary WMD that dear Cheney (pron. /Chee/ /nee/) dreamed of. Some reps. forgot what they had for lunch yesterday.

Posted by: albertorparedes | October 30, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

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