'Deadly' report details federal waste
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.
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"Federal Programs to Die For: American Tax Dollars Sent Six Feet Under"
| October 29, 2010; 4:30 AM ET
Categories: Congress, Eye Opener, Oversight
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