OPM, SSA finalizing data sharing agreement to stop paying dead people

Over a 21 year period, the Social Security Administration paid benefits to 35 deceased federal employees or retirees. The average beneficiary received $49,156 over 84 months for a total of $1.7 million paid out improperly.
But that was the bad news in the most recent report from SSA’s inspector general on how it’s ensuring it’s not paying dead people.

Auditors found SSA’s payment to federal employee beneficiaries who had died accounted for less than one-tenth of a percent of the total $932 billion in benefit payments made between 1991 and 2013. The IG said it didn’t review data after 2013.

“SSA receives reports of an individual’s death from a number of sources, including friends and relatives of the deceased and funeral homes. SSA also receives death reports from state bureaus of vital statistics as well as from some other federal agencies—but not OPM,” auditors wrote in the Aug. 30 report.

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The IG said part of the reason for the improper payments was OPM and SSA didn’t have a formal agreement to share data.

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“Additionally, on July 1, 2016, SSA informed us that it had formally requested monthly reports of death from OPM and is currently in negotiations with OPM to obtain these reports. According to SSA, OPM has agreed that it can supply most of the data elements SSA has requested, while it is verifying others and researching the approximate expected volume of new death records. Once all negotiations are complete, SSA will begin collaborating with OPM on drafting a new Information Exchange Agreement and developing the remaining project timeline.”

In all, SSA received 1.9 million records from OPM and verified the beneficiaries’ names, dates of birth and social security numbers.

Washington, D.C. claimed the most deceased beneficiaries receiving benefits with seven. Maryland was second with four while Florida and Ohio had three each.

“As of fiscal year 2016, SSA was working on its Death Processing Redesign, which is a multi-year project to improve the accuracy and consistency of death information, identify and reduce improper payments, and reduce the likelihood of the improper release of personally identifiable information,” auditors say. “Also, SSA continues working with States to increase the use of the Electronic Death Registration (EDR) process. EDR is an automated process by which the States provide SSA a death report within 24 hours of receipt from the state’s bureau of vital statistics. The expansion of EDR supports SSA’s strategic plan as an initiative to assist in preventing improper payments by detecting unreported or discrepant dates of death by processing reports timely and accurately. As of June 2016, 43 States, New York City, and the District of Columbia were providing SSA with death data through the EDR process.”

Difficulties in data sharing and matching isn’t new for OPM. In 2011, the OPM IG reported the agency paid $600 million to federal employees beneficiaries who had passed away between 2006 and 2010.

SSA’s IG also wrote in 2012 that the agency wasn’t transferring data to its Death Master File consistently enough, which led to OPM, the departments of Defense and the Veterans Affairs and the Railroad Retirement Board potentially making improper payments.