U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today continued to question government officials on what can be done to prevent government overpayments and protect taxpayer dollars. The meeting of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee focused on the problem of improper payments, specifically benefits paid to deceased individuals, and how to prevent an estimated $108 billion in overpayments by the federal government each year.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) compiles death information about social security number holders in order to ensure it does not pay Social Security benefits to deceased individuals. In order to do this, SSA maintains a Death Master File that includes information about citizens who have died.
While the master file can sometimes contain inaccuracies, it remains a valuable tool for government agencies in their attempt to prevent improper payments. Unfortunately, this information is not available to many parts of the government, and consequently increases in overpayments can occur. Additionally, federal law requires SSA to charge other federal agencies for the use of the information, a practice McCaskill said lacked common sense.
"We should be falling all over ourselves to make sure this list is accurate and complete and that the entire federal government has access to it. If these separate agencies were part of the same private business, there's simply no way things would function like this," McCaskill said. "This is about the bottom line for taxpayers."
Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, Department of the Treasury, Government Accountability Office, and Social Security Administration.
McCaskill, a former Jackson County Prosecutor and State Auditor, recently became Chairman of a powerful new Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight-a position from which she plans to expand her years-long fight against government waste, fraud, and abuse, expanding from a focus on contracting to include the financial operations of every federal agency. Spurred to begin an investigation by a letter from a Missouri doctor, McCaskill held the first hearing in this subcommittee recently, targeting aggressive sales and marketing tactics in the medical equipment industry which has also resulted in inappropriate payments by the federal government.