More than 4 percent of federal payments go to the wrong person, are in the wrong amount or were paid for the wrong reason, according to government data.
But agencies have a new tool at their disposal to cut the rate of improper payments before they ever cut the check in the first place.
The White House announced the launch of the Do Not Pay tool earlier this month, the culmination of a two-year effort to reign in payment errors that hit a high of 5.4 percent in 2009.
The new tool tracks data from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (which helps reduce payments made to the deceased) and the Excluded Parties List System, a roster of suspended and debarred contractors maintained by the General Services Administration .
“That’s the current footprint of data,” said Danny Werfel, the Office of Management and Budget controller and the administration’s point man in stemming the tide of improper payments. “But we’re working with other agencies to look for additional sources of data.”
For example, he said information gathered from the Bureau of Prisons could eventually be added to the databases, because in most instances prisoners are barred from receiving such payments.
“We want to get that basic foundation of information so that we can avoid payments in all those cases,” he added, during an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose.
On the portal, agency users can search a single name or upload a file with numerous names to check for eligibility. Users are presented with a risk report, which signals the likelihood that a specific name or entity is ineligible for payment.
It’s not always an exact science, though, Werfel said.
For example, a contractor could be entered in the files as Jones Corporation, Jones Co. and Jones, LLP., which could muddle the results.
The risk report may not point to a direct match but does provide an area where the agency would want to investigate further.
“This is really about technology that gets the agency smarter about who they’re planning to pay and who they’re planning to do business with,” Werfel said. “And that can be a real game-changer in terms of helping us battle the issue of improper payments.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.