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Lawmakers lament federal improper payment problem

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The federal government has a major problem with waste, fraud and abuse when it comes to agencies that issue payments to Americans.

Lawmakers raised concerns about that very problem at a hearing Tuesday held by the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. The hearing invited lawmakers and experts to explore how improper payments, which have totaled in the trillions of dollars of federal funds in the last two decades, are wasting taxpayer dollars.

“Economic outlooks forecast the deficit in this country will balloon to $1.8 trillion, equating to 6.8 percent of the GDP by 2024,” the relevant subcommittee chair Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said in his opening remarks. “Given these fiscal realities, financial mismanagement cannot be tolerated.”

The national debt is currently nearing $35 trillion.

“Improper payments, whether because of deliberate fraud, mistake, or an inaccurate amount, is a pervasive problem across the federal government,” Griffith added.

As The Center Square previously reported, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that the feds lose between $223 billion and $521 billion dollars annually to fraud.

“When we’re looking at numbers like 230-plus billion, 250-plus billion, and keep in mind we do our budgets in ten year windows, that’s 2.3-2.5 trillion dollars plus interest because every dollar of improper payment is a borrowed dollar,” Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., said at the hearing

Improper payments occur when the federal government mistakenly overpays or pays the wrong person. Often, fraudsters take advantage of the government and can steal billions of dollars from taxpayers.

Medicare and Medicaid are particularly vulnerable to these losses and were the center of the hearing Wednesday.

“This mismanagement indicates not only a lack of internal control but also a severe deficiency in program integrity that undermines public trust in government,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said at the hearing.

“Federal-state cooperation is vital in health care delivery, and I hope our hearing today will inform ideas to strengthen that partnership. However, my frustration mounts with an administration that seems to prioritize spending sprees over meaningful stewardship of taxpayer’s hard-earned money.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal spending was rushed out the door to help Americans. Later analyses, though, the Small Business Administration Inspector General reported that just that one agency likely wasted $200 billion dollars in improper payments.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability, introduced the Government Spending Oversight Committee Act earlier this week to empower federal watchdogs to prevent fraud, as The Center Square previously reported.

A similar companion bill in the Senate has bipartisan support.

“It’s appalling to see the government’s disregard for taxpayer funds,” McMorris-Rodgers said.

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