Agencies continue to struggle with overspending when doling out benefits

GAO found these payments were made to dead people or those who are no longer eligible for the benefits in question.

  • Agencies continue to struggle with giving too much money to citizens when doling out benefits. New data from the Government Accountability Office shows 74% of all improper payments in fiscal 2023 resulted from overpayments. These are payments made to people who have died or who are no longer eligible for government programs. GAO found agencies reported about $236 billion in improper payments last year, down about $11 billion, as compared to 2022. The Medicaid program reduced the amount of improper payments it paid out by $30 billion, while the Labor Department's unemployment insurance program saw an increase of $44 billion in payment errors last year.
  • The Education Department is getting pushback over its latest return-to-office plans. All bargaining unit employees at the Education Department will soon be expected to report to work in person at least five days per pay period. Secretary Miguel Cardona made the announcement to employees in an all-staff email Thursday morning. Cardona noted that the changes are subject to bargaining obligations with the agency’s union, the American Federation of Government Employees. But AFGE local president Sheria Smith said the announcement came as a shock to some: “We received at least 100 messages from employees saying, ‘Hey, I want a reasonable accommodation — I moved — am I supposed to come back now?” The change for employees will take effect May 20.
    (Announcement on increasing in-person presence of agency employees - Education Department)
  • Top officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs said the latest rollout of a new Electronic Health Record is a step in the right direction. Under Secretary for Health Shereef Elnahal said the VA’s recent go-live at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago is the most successful rollout so far. “We’re going to watch this closely, and we’re going to be on top of it, not just in the next few weeks, but in the coming months," Elnahal said. A successful EHR rollout would give the VA the chance to move on from problems that have hampered the project since 2020. A recent inspector general report found a scheduling error with the Oracle-Cerner EHR in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to the death of a veteran in 2022.
  • A new roadmap to improve the cloud security authorization process is out. The first piece of the Federal Risk Authorization and Management Program’s overhaul is out. The program management office released a new roadmap for the cloud security program outlining four primary goals, six initiatives and 28 near-term priorities. FedRAMP will take on several pilots over the next 18 months to lower the cost and to speed up the authorization process. One pilot program will support machine-readable “digital authorization packages” through automation using the Open Security Controls Assessment Language framework. The new roadmap comes before the Office of Management and Budget finalized its updated FedRAMP guidance, released in draft in October. OMB is current reviewing more than 285 comments.
  • The Defense Department wants its vendors to be more cyber secure, and it already has a lot of tools to help them. But as of now, they are a bit of a scattered mess. That is one of the things DoD wants to fix via a new Defense Industrial Base Cyber Strategy. The Pentagon published the strategy yesterday. DoD also wants to significantly expand the number of companies that can take advantage of its free cyber defense services. That eligibility will expand under a new rule set to take effect in a few weeks.
  • Data analytics tools used to fight fraud in COVID-19 emergency programs might be redeployed to look at more government spending. The Government Spending Oversight Act would preserve analytics tools built by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), and would require their use to uncover more fraud in federal spending. The bill would create a Government Spending Oversight Committee to manage those tools. PRAC said its tools have flagged nearly $2 billion dollars in pandemic fraud so far. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) introduced the bill.
    (Peters and Romney introduce bipartisan bill to strengthen oversight of government spending - Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee)
  • The Army’s Innovation Exchange Lab is up and running. The new lab will allow companies to test their solutions within the Army’s Unified Data Reference Architecture (UDRA). The Army is particularly interested in solutions serving as data catalogs within the framework of UDRA. The lab is accessible to all industry partners. Companies can include a detailed description of their product during registration. The Army is in the midst of the implementation phase of UDRA, an effort that will allow the service to build out a data mesh across all of its programs.
  • The Army has opened a central office to manage the relocation of military families with special needs. It is called the Exceptional Family Member Program, which provides support to soldiers whose family members require special medical or educational assistance. The program is mandatory for all active-duty families with special needs. The program staff works with military and civilian agencies to provide medical, housing and educational services to over 40,000 enrolled families.
  • A bipartisan pair of senators is calling for more oversight of the Federal Employees Health Benefits program (FEHB). Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) introduced the FEHB Protection Act, which would require the Office of Personnel Management to verify eligibility before adding new members to the health care program. If enacted, the bill would also require an audit of FEHB to remove any invalid members who are currently enrolled. The bill comes in response to a recent report showing that ineligible FEHB members are costing the government up to $1 billion each year.
    (FEHB Protection Act - Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.))

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