GAO: More data sharing needed in federal workers comp oversight

Thursday - 11/10/2011, 6:05pm EST

Greg Kutz, Director of Forensic Audits and Investigations, GAO

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

More data sharing will help agencies catch fraud in the federal employees' workers' compensation program, according to a statement from the Government Accountability Office before House committee.

"One of the most significant vulnerabilities was the limited access to certain data," said Greg Kutz, director of Forensic Audits and Investigations at the GAO, in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose.

This week Kutz submitted report reviewing fraud prevention controls in the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA) program to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Currently, agencies use data available through federal agencies and other public resources. However, agencies do not have access to certain databases, such as the National Directory of New Hires, which lists unemployment insurance and quarterly wage information from employers nationwide, Kutz said.

Agencies could also do a better job of sharing information with each other, he said. For example, social security disability or veterans disability could be made available to the Labor Department as a way to cross-reference claims. FECA has an offset which makes lower payments for someone receiving disability from more than one program, Kutz said.

Implementing such data sharing initiatives will require both legislative changes and data sharing arrangements between agencies, he said.

Other best practices

FECA covers more than 2.7 million civilian federal and postal employees in more than 70 agencies. Future actuarial liabilities for governmentwide FECA payments is expected to total nearly $30 billion as of fiscal year 2011, according to the GAO statement.

GAO examined FECA oversight at the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, the Postal Service, Army, Navy, Air Force and Labor, which runs the FECA program. These six agencies and departments represent nearly three-quarters of FECA's total size, Kutz said.

The watchdog agency identified four types of oversight best practices:

  • Dedicated full-time staff to manage and oversee fraud and abuse.
  • Periodic eligibility reviews, such as reviews of wages and medical conditions.
  • Using available data.
  • Investigations. Since 2008, Postal identified 476 cases of fraud that results in $83 million in judgment payments.

In these times of shrinking budgets, Kutz said, "Eliminating fraud, waste and abuse is important."