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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bill to reduce improper payments reintroduced (7/24/09) -- www.GovernmentExecutive.com

"A Delaware senator has reintroduced a bill that could help identify and recover billions of dollars in improper payments made by the government.

On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Tom Carper once again put forward the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act. The bill would require greater oversight of improper payments and penalize agencies that consistently fail to fix accounting mistakes."

As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, Carper has held more than a half-dozen hearings on reducing improper payments.

The senator introduced a nearly identical bill last year, but the Congressional Budget Office found that some highly technical language in the legislation, since corrected, caused the price tag to rise considerably, according to a Democratic committee staffer.

Carper's bill stems from a report issued in April by the Government Accountability Office that found an estimated $72 billion in federal improper payments in fiscal year 2008 -- or roughly 4 percent of the $1.8 trillion of documented outlays for those related programs. The watchdog discovered that the figure should actually be higher, but some programs were not adequately tracked.

Specifically, Carper's bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; John McCain, R-Ariz., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would amend the 2002 Improper Payments Information Act by lowering the threshold for which agencies must report improper payments.

The act currently requires agencies to report annually to Congress when they issue at least $10 million in improper payments and when that figure accounts for 2.5 percent of that program's annual outlays. But that provision allows many extremely large programs with tens of millions in improper payments to avoid scrutiny, a committee staffer said.

Carper's bill would require any program with $100 million in improper payments -- no matter the percentage of the program's outlays -- to report those payments to Congress. By 2013, the act would be revised to lower the percentage threshold to 1.5 percent.

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