Remaining Challenges and Strategies for Governmentwide Reduction Efforts

March 28, 2012

Federal agencies reported an estimated $115.3 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2011, a decrease of $5.3 billion from the prior year reported estimate of $120.6 billion. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the $115.3 billion estimate was attributable to 79 programs spread among 17 agencies. Ten programs accounted for about $107 billion or 93 percent of the total estimated improper payments agencies reported. The reported decrease in fiscal year 2011 was primarily related to 3 programs—decreases in program outlays for the Unemployment Insurance program, and decreases in reported error rates for the Earned Income Tax Credit program and the Medicare Advantage program. Further, OMB reported that agencies recaptured $1.25 billion in improper payments to contractors and vendors.

The federal government continues to face challenges in determining the full extent of improper payments. Some agencies have not reported estimates for all risk-susceptible programs, while other agencies' estimation methodologies were found to be not statistically valid. For example, GAO's recently completed study of Foster Care improper payments found that the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) had established a process to calculate a national improper payment estimate for the Foster Care program, which totaled about $73 million for fiscal year 2010, the year covered by GAO's review. However, the estimate was not based on a statistically valid methodology and consequently did not provide a reasonably accurate estimate of the extent of Foster Care improper payments. Further, GAO found that ACF could not reliably assess the extent to which corrective actions reduced Foster Care improper payments. 

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