Here’s What It Would Take to Slash Government Waste: Better IT Departments
Policy + Politics

Here’s What It Would Take to Slash Government Waste: Better IT Departments

© Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

A House Republican proposal to reduce improper payments for Medicare, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and other programs and save taxpayers $700 billion in the next five years has sparked considerable support from lawmakers in both parties and government watchdogs that have long complained about government waste and fraud.

In the wake of repeated prodding by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the House Budget Committee proposed the creation of a special commission to crack down on improper payments by government agencies as part of a fiscal 2018 budget resolution approved by the committee last week.

Related: Can Congress Finally Stop Wasting $100 Billion a Year in Erroneous Payments?

However, experts are warning that it will take more than simply appointing another blue-ribbon panel to rein in improper payments that GAO estimates totaled $1.2 trillion between 2003 and 20016, including $144 billion in the most recent year.

Improper payments, defined as any government payment made in an incorrect amount or to the wrong individual or entity, are ingrained in federal low-income assistance and health care programs and will take extraordinary coordinated measures to weed out.

The House Republicans’ initiative is far more aggressive than President Trump’s proposed $139 billion in savings over the coming decade. However, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), an expert on the government workforce and bureaucracy, said last week that it would take a Herculean coordinated effort by the administration, federal agencies and lawmakers to make good on the House GOP target.

Delivering the keynote address at an industry-sponsored forum on government fraud and abuse, Connolly said the government is woefully behind in new technology and skilled personnel essential to combating waste. He warned that progress would only be made “if Congress invests in the enterprise to upgrade hiring skills.”

Related: The 10 States With the Worst Medicare Waste

The major problem is that Trump and Congress are working at cross purposes, according to Connolly and others who spoke at the conference. Trump’s budget proposal seeks to eliminate 19 agencies and thousands of federal jobs and impose sharp funding reductions in most federal agencies. Overall spending on internet technology would increase under the president’s budget, but with a disproportional share going for military purposes.

Connolly said that approach would frustrate “forward-thinking federal agencies eager to hire tech-savvy personnel and purchase emerging technologies, such as data analytics, that are critical in ferreting out improper spending, according to a report of the speech by Government Executive.

“It’s a great goal [by the budget committee], but how are you going to do that?” Connolly said at the forum, sponsored by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council. “You’re not only not making the investments you need to make; you’re doing the opposite.”

Related: How Private Insurers Rip Off Medicare Advantage for Billions of Dollars

Among Connolly’s suggestions:

*The government must pursue upgrades in technology, rather than continuing to rely on legacy systems that in some cases date back to the Johnson Administration of the late 1960s.

*Agencies must be free to hire highly skilled people with technology and legal backgrounds who can identify, track and eliminate improper payments. Currently, the Office of Management and Budget has only three of 500 analysts and employees working on combating improper payments, along with other duties.

*The Administration must pick up the pace of filling chief financial officers’ vacancies at a raft of federal agencies and departments, which are vital to overseeing government expenditures.