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Agencies must work together to reduce improper payments
Monday - 11/28/2011, 11:22am EST
By Michael O'Connell
Federal News Radio
Agencies are looking for ways to use money wisely. Now, the Association of Government Accountants has released a study sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton that comes up with ideas for reducing improper payments.
"When we did the study, we obviously focused on doing it just because we knew that with the deficit and shrinking budget that improper payments were going to be increasingly important," said Ashley Skyrme, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton. She spoke with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris Monday morning about working with AGA and sponsoring its research.
While Skyrme acknowledged that many of the recommendations of the study aren't that new, the research does underscore the need for agencies to establish quantifiable targets for reducing improper payments. Also, agencies need to share information with each other to help eliminate improper payments.
"Fifty percent of payments that are improper are because it's very difficult to make sure that somebody's eligible to receive the money," Skyrme said. "So, by sharing information around income, being able to validate who the beneficiary is and whether their income is correct and that they deserve that payment, can put a strong dent in the challenge. We really underscore that we want agencies to work together, share information and definitely verify up front before letting the improper payment go out the door."
Currently, Social Security and IRS data is not generally available for agencies to access as a source of identifying information. "It could be made available," Skyrme said. "But, of course, with privacy related challenges, IRS can't just make their information available. The government would have to work together to share that information and it would have to be some changes to the process so that the beneficiary was comfortable with having the agency they've applied to verify their income through that third party.
When people look at the size of the improper payments, they wonder why the government can't fix it, Skyrme said.
"It's easy on the outside to look at this, but there is a tension that exists between getting the money out to the people who need it. So, you can't just put a hold on providing Medicare and Medicaid payments to those who need it, or even the National School Lunch Program, which had one of the higher improper rates," she said.
Skyrme said that agencies have to be upfront about verifying who is eligible, because it's difficult to take back a benefit that has been paid out.