Lawmakers turn up heat on improper payments with new bills



Some members of Congress want federal officials to be more transparent and accountable about their agency’s improper payments, which could save money for taxpayers.

Improper payments – payments that either shouldn’t have been made or were made in the incorrect amount – have been a longstanding problem throughout the federal government. The most recent estimate of improper payments by the federal government found 14 federal agencies made $236 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2023. Over the past two decades, the government has made $2.7 trillion in improper payments, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

A pair of new bills aims to bring the issues to the forefront.

A group of U.S. Representatives introduced a bipartisan bill, H.R. 8342, the Improper Payments Transparency Act, which would require the President’s annual budget request to include information to help detect and prevent improper payments. Among the changes: A description of programs required to submit improper payment reports; an explanation of why any improper payments occurred; trends in improper payment amounts and rates over a three-year period; and what corrective action agencies are taking to address the problem.

“One of the most obvious ways is by reining in improper payments that the federal government should never have made in the first place,” U.S. Rep. Rudy Yakym, R-Ind., said in a statement. “Our commonsense, bipartisan legislation increases transparency and reporting requirements when it comes to improper payments so we can start to root out this wasteful practice and better steward taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.”

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., said the costs add up.

“Over the last two decades, the federal government has reportedly made over $2.7 trillion in improper payments that either should not have been made in the first place or were made in the incorrect amount,” Panetta said. “These mistakes can add up, which is why our bipartisan Payments Transparency Act would require the President’s annual budget request to provide additional detail on these improper payments as we continue our work to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Under the bill, the budget proposal for each agency would be required to include information on amounts and trends in improper payments and to list corrective actions, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Another bipartisan bill, H.R.8343, Enhancing Improper Payment Accountability Act, which would require the President’s annual budget proposal to include information about improper payments. It would add reporting requirements about improper payments for new programs, and require federal agencies to report on their anti-fraud and risk management activities in their financial reports, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

U.S. Reps. Blake Moore, R-Utah, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Virginia, introduced the bill last month.

“Mishandling taxpayer dollars with little oversight is big government at its worst,” Moore said. “There are plenty of messaging bills in Congress, but this bill is squarely focused on addressing a major issue within our spending crisis.”

Spanberger said improper payments hurt those in programs designed to help people.

“Improper payments and fraud not only hurt American taxpayers – but also hurt the members of our communities who federal programs are created to assist and diminish public trust in the federal government’s role managing taxpayer dollars,” she said. “Congress has a responsibility to both stand-up programs that address the pressing needs of Americans and protect their hard-earned dollars.”

Improper payments have declined in recent years, but remain a stubborn challenge for many federal agencies. Improper payments peaked in fiscal year 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic at $281.4 billion.

Most of the improper payments come from five federal programs. The GAO analysis of agency data showed that 14 agencies reported improper payment estimates across 71 programs. About 79% ($186 billion) of the government-wide total of estimated improper payments that agencies reported for fiscal year 2023 was concentrated in five program areas:

Medicare, comprising three programs ($51 billion);Medicaid ($50 billion);the Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance – Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ($44 billion);the Department of the Treasury’s Earned Income Tax Credit ($22 billion);the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness ($19 billion).

Some programs had high improper payment rates, among them Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Guaranty Purchases (49.1%), PPP Loan Forgiveness (40.5%), Farm Service Agency Emergency Conservation Program – Disasters (40.4%), according to the report.

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