Eighteen federal agencies reported roughly $247 billion in improper payments across 82 programs for fiscal year 2022, according to a report released recently by the Government Accountability Office. Nearly 80% of the total came from Medicaid ($81 billion), Medicare ($47 billion), the Paycheck Protection Program ($29 billion), Unemployment Insurance ($19 billion) and the Earned Income Tax Credit ($18 billion). The overall estimate does not include some programs that may be susceptible to improper payments, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and food stamps.
Administration officials pointed out that “most improper payments are not fraudulent and not all represent a monetary loss to taxpayers.” And Washington Post Columnist Joe Davidson writes that, while the $247 billion total is large and undoubtedly problematic, it also represents a bit of progress. “Surprisingly, that astronomical number represents an improvement from the previous year, when improper payments — which include all those that can’t be properly accounted for — totaled $281 billion,” Davidson says. “That was the most ever recorded since the law began requiring the reporting in fiscal 2003, when $35 billion in improper payments seemed like a lot.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget noted in a blog post late last year that the improper payment rate fell from 7.2% in 2021 to 5.1% in 2022. “But our work isn’t finished,” the post said, “and the data makes clear that Federal agencies have more to do to drive down improper payments in both newer and long-standing programs.”
GAO last week released an updated “High Risk List” of federal government areas that are vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement or require significant reforms. The list included 37 areas, including three new additions since 2021: the Unemployment Insurance system, the Department of Health and Human Services’ coordination of public health emergencies and federal prison system management. GAO noted that 16 of the 37 areas on its list had shown progress, with two falling off the list completely.