OPM commits to stopping payments to dead people

Friday - 9/23/2011, 6:17pm EDT

John Berry, Director, Office of Personnel Management

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The Office of Personnel Management has created a task force on improper payments after an inspector general report revealed that the agency has paid $601 million in retirement benefits to dead people.

Director John Berry said he would check with the task force on a weekly basis.

"I'm going to stay personally engaged on this," Berry said in an interview with In Depth.

"We're not going to rest until every dollar is resolved," he said. "We take it very seriously, and we're not going to tolerate fraud. We're going to chase it down."

Berry said the agency has already recovered or resolved $487 million of the money in question and the agency is working on the rest.

OPM has taken a number of steps to address the problem, including an annual computer match between its list of annuitants and the Social Security Administration's death records, according to OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland.

"In retrospect, however, these improvements were clearly only partial remedies at best," he said.

OPM has implemented 10 of 14 recommendations made by the inspector general. According to the IG report, the four left for OPM to tackle are:

  • Tracking undeliverable IRS Form 1099Rs.
  • Capitalizing on retirement systems modernization technology.
  • Establishing a working group to improve the program.
  • Recovering funds in inactive accounts which remain unclaimed.

President Barack Obama has set a goal of preventing $50 billion in improper payments and recovering $2 billion already distributed, Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management Jeff Zients said in a White House blog entry.

The vast majority of benefits are paid correctly and improper payments in the program are less than two-tenths of one percent, Berry said in a statement.

"99.8 percent of the time, we're doing a good job and we're doing it accurately. But we can't rest until it's 100," Berry told Federal News Radio.

Jolie Lee contributed to this story.