White House unveils new tool to stop improper payments

Thursday - 4/12/2012, 4:23pm EDT

The White House has unveiled a new tool to fight wasteful spending on payment errors and fraud.

The "Do Not Pay" tool combs through multiple government databases, creating a single list for federal agencies to use to determine whether the recipients of payments, including grants and contracts, are eligible to receive them.

The tool was developed jointly by the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget.

"The American people expect their public servants to be good stewards of their tax dollars," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "That's why my administration has made every effort to cut waste, from stopping payments to the deceased to cracking down on fraud."

In a memorandum to the heads of federal departments and agencies, Acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients ordered the chief financial officers of all federal agencies to submit a draft plan for using the tool by June 30.

Tool provides single access point

The web-based tool will be used to check both individuals and companies, and will combine a number of federal resources into a single access point — including the Social Security Administration's Death Master File and the Excluded Parties List, which lists suspended and debarred contracts — among others.

Contracting officers will continue to use the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System.

The term improper payments describes a range of unnecessary or erroneous government payouts.

Some stem from payments to deceased recipients. For example, an Office of Personnel Management inspector general report in September found the agency had paid more than $600 million in retirement benefits to dead people.

The federal government's improper-payment rate reached an all-time high of 5.4 percent in 2009. In response, the administration launched its Campaign to Cut Waste, applying lessons learned from the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to all federal spending, with the goal of reducing payment errors by $50 billion by 2013. The improper-payment rate dropped to 4.7 percent last year, with $20 billion saved in 2010 and 2011 combined, the White House said.

'Arming federal agencies with new tools'

In its 2013 budget request, the administration included a number of new initiatives around ending erroneous payments.

OMB Controller Danny Werfel, who has long served as the administration's point man for rolling back the tide of improper payments, recently told lawmakers that Congress must take action in order to make a bigger dent in the problem.

However in a post on the OMB blog Thursday, Werfel said the administration will continue to take steps on its own.

"We can't wait for Congress to act, and that is why we are taking further steps to build on our progress to date," he wrote, calling the launch of the "Do Not Pay" tool a "critical step."

"By providing a single point of access to an array of databases and using data analytics, we are arming federal agencies with new tools to stop improper payments before they occur," Werfel added.

Treasury, the Government Printing Office and the National Archives Records Administration have adopted the tool already; all agencies are expected to adopt it by spring 2013.

(Federal News Radio's Jack Moore contributed to this report)

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