Ho Hum: $6.2B in Improper Payments at USDA, Three Straight Years of Legal Noncompliance

April 30th, 2014 7:17 PM

When several members of Congress set out in the early 1990s to improve fiscal reporting and internal controls in the federal government, one thing they certainly had a right to expect is that the press would report on lapses as embarrassments, and that otherwise nonchalant or reluctant bureaucrats would figure out that it would be in their best interest to tighten their ships. It hasn't happened, largely because the press quickly got bored, enabling the bureaucrats to thumb their noses at those who called them out for weak reporting or control violations.

To name just one glaring example: Concerning the Internal Revenue Service, in August of last year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration happily reported "the downgrade of the information security material weakness to a significant deficiency during the Fiscal Year 2012 financial statement audit," and that "the IRS removed it from the December 31, 2012, remediation plan" (that's bureaucratese for "finally solved the problem") — 19 years after it was first identified in 1993. In that context, let's look at an outrageous situation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

it's disappointing but obviously no surprise, even though the amounts of money involved are significant, that the Washington Free Beacon, via reporter Elizabeth Harrington, is from all appearances the only media outlet (with a shout-out from Fox News) interested in reporting chronic improper payment and legal compliance issues at USDA (bolds are mine):

USDA Made $6.2 Billion in Improper Payments Last Year
Failed to comply with law to avoid fraudulent payments for third year in a row


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made $6.2 billion in improper payments in 2013, according to the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG released an audit earlier this month that found that at least $416 million in waste could have been avoided if the agency had met its reduction targets mandated by the Improper Payment Information Act (IPIA). In fact, the USDA has failed to comply with the law for a third consecutive year.

... The report noted that the agency runs more than 300 programs, spending $159 billion a year. Sixteen of those programs are considered “high-risk” for waste, fraud, and abuse, including the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which administers food stamps, and the school breakfast and lunch programs.

The School Breakfast Program had the highest rate for improper payments in 2013, with over a quarter of all disbursements being incorrect. The 25.26 percent of improper payments amounted to $831 million, of which $716 million were overpayments to schools.

The lunch program was not much better, as 15.69 percent of their payments were improper, amounting to $1.8 billion.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, issued $2.6 billion in improper payments, and 65.92 percent of the errors were “agency-caused.” More than $2 billion were overpayments.

It's sadly predictable that USDA feigns interest in solving its problem, but apparently only if it get more money to do so:

... In an attempt to cut back on fraud and abuse, Congress passed IPIA in 2002, though the USDA has not complied with the law for three years. The agency is required to publish estimates for improper payments for all of its programs, and reduce improper payments by meeting targets each year. The USDA did not publish estimates for three programs, including its Child and Adult Care Food Program, which reimburses the costs for meals and snacks for children who attend daycare in private homes.

FNS said it would need $20 million to conduct a “feasibility study” in order to estimate the total number of improper payments administered to family daycare homes.

Contrary to what congressional advocates thought would occur when they passed their legislation over two decades ago, no one will put any pressure on USDA head Tom Vilsack or President Obama to fix the situation, and things will more than likely continue to slip-slide along. This explains why estimates that hundreds of billions of federal dollars are lost to waste, fraud and abuse each year aren't at all unreasonable.

Just wait until we see the control and accountability problems which emerge in the out of control Obamacare system — and the arrogant likely refusal to do anything substantive about them once they're discovered. They can rest easy in the knowledge that the press isn't interested, especially in doing anything to disrupt the "grand experiment" in state-controlled health care. The press in turns justifies its outlook because it believes that the people who consume news aren't interested — especially during Democratic presidential administrations.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.