The government-wide Improper Payment Rate dropped by more than 2% in fiscal 2022. One of the biggest ways agencies can keep it headed downward is stronger ident...
The government-wide Improper Payment Rate dropped by more than 2% in fiscal 2022. One of the biggest ways agencies can keep it headed downward is stronger identity management. Beryl Davis is the Managing Director of the Financial Management and Assurance team at the Government Accountability Office and Tim Persons is the GAO’s Chief Scientist. They tell Federal News Network’s Jason Miller about a new tool developed by the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program.
We really think that agencies you know, trying to implement those those pilot programs might really find which are most successful, which aren’t what levels of authority, you know, work, what don’t work, what are the costs, you know, what are the costs versus the benefits? And, and so that’s probably what I would point out to don’t know if Tim wants to add to that.
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Yeah, I think that it is, it’s time to, you know, we’ve collected a lot of data, we obviously, with these stimulus monies that have been put out in recent years, we have a lot of things that we could go back and assess patterns, and try and again, do that risk assessment through the through the programmatic lens of, of whoever’s giving the benefit. And I think the pilot, you just need to be able to start doing, right, we know this has been a big problem. Even when we talk about improper payments, we really are talking about estimates of improper payments. And one of the things we’re doing in our innovation lab in partnership with Barry and her team is just an hour fraud team as well, is trying to just explore the bounds of how we compute that. So being able to see some things piloted as Barry was talking about, in the various agencies, departments and programs where their risk and their their needs can vary based on their data is going to be I think, a powerful outcome. And then really, that sharing piece is critical. Because we do need to say, here’s what works, and here’s what didn’t work. And I think there’s going to be potential significant taxpayer savings, if we can do that. And that’s what that’s really after this report, we’re pivoting into the community that is into some of these smaller scale pilots to try and for the bounds of the challenge, which is really what the tool was intended to do to simulate, to let you have kind of think of it as knobs have a policy it set risk tolerances set, various variable set budgeting, because it all ties together, right. And so I think that’s what you’re going to see in the near future.
Tim, I’m glad you brought up this idea of sharing, because one of the things we’ve seen from reports from GAO and from the inspector general community is, for instance, and we’ll pick on the Social Security Administration as an example, they have a master death file, right, someone passes away, it gets reported, but sometimes they can’t share that with, let’s say, the IRS, and then they have challenges of on a sharing that data, my example may not be perfect. Maybe they solved that one problem. But there are instances where agency X can’t get data from agency Y unless if they have a specific agreement, and that makes delays and that also increases the risk of improper payments. Did you also talk about those issues that maybe Congress needs to solve or address because SSA and IRS are, they’re on the same team, but sometimes, because of the way laws are written or policies are written they’re bumping up against bigger obstacles?
Yes, I mean, the laws sometimes prevent the sharing of data. And that is a concern. You know, the laws are written for a specified purpose. But, you know, when we look now, at the importance and the value of data sharing, we’re starting to question whether, you know, some of those laws can be changed. And in fact, GAO has gone on record before, in particular, you know, the information that SSA is put to has developed or created or obtained, and the value of sharing that with a Do Not Pay Initiative. So yeah, data sharing, you know, is important, and sometimes the laws prevent that from happening.
Yeah, I agree, Barry, and I think that the sharing, Jason, you said, again, like I mentioned before, we’ve written a number of great reports on the need for data sharing. And yet, we also do work on the need for let’s say, for example, preservation of privacy, we operate in a in a framework of constitutional civil liberties. So how much the government collects and shares, disseminate, aggregates and so on, it’s highly sensitive and like you put your finger on a great example Jason, it takes a while to do those things that we do need to have from a policy perspective, starting with what I think is the best question to start with is how might we do this right not may we do this? That’s a permission question. Can we do this or an ability question those things do matter. But in this conversation that says well, how do we solve this thing? Because we do need for example, like you said, Jason, to do things like match the Social Security death master file with IRS so that the IRS can do its job of proper revenue collection and and you know that the taxpayers, the honest taxpayers are protected. And the dishonest ones, you have disincentives there in place to deal with that. Another example that I think comes up is, you know, we do work, for example, on mitigation of opioids and things like that. And you can, you can find challenges or fraud or doctor shopping or things in data from CMS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Right. But that’s medical data that that risks PII, you know, you would want to have some mechanism that if you can see that kind of challenge in this, you know, opioid abuse, or writing scrips, and so on, that that would be referred to law enforcement officers. So those sort of things are what the government is now dealing with, in this particular case for payment integrity. And I think, again, that using a data centric approach, using design thinking, coming up with a federated model, managing risk, and so on, as the report talks about, is going to help us solve that. But that data sharing is critical.
Tim, you brought up the GAO Innovation Lab, something we’ve talked to quite a bit about in the past, just wondering, are they taking on any other efforts around identity verification, or looking at this problem, any way they do any other work based on this JFMIP effort?
The latter is working in this space. And nothing that we’re piloting necessarily out of this report yet, we could do that. But we’re exploring that identity verification, a lot of this, I think, is allowing sister institutions especially, you know, on the executive branch side, where there’s, they have a lot of agencies departments for spending and doing this, we think that there might be some under JFMIP future partnerships to continue to compute in this area, that data has to be collected. We just are building kind of the means of production as it were in the digital domain, to be able to do some of these more advanced pilots and things like that, based upon questions that and data that may, in the future be available to us. So yes, in general, working on things, but nothing in a big, specific way. Right now, following on this report.
Actually, Beryl I was going to ask you that question is GAO doing any other work? Any other reports? Have you guys gotten any requests from lawmakers to do any more insights or reports on improper payments? Aside from maybe the annual report that you do or anything like that?
We have definitely an interest on the part of Congress in doing more work in the realm of improper payments, which, you know, could include identity verification, but I’m not. I’m just I don’t know the answer to that question. Certainly not in the work that I’ve been doing relative to identity verification.
Or just even improper payments more generally?
Barry and my boss, the comptroller general, his top thing has been, I remember, when we founded the lab, he was saying, look, number one challenge, you need to be working on his improper. And so we’ve been against strategically unpacking that we’ve been in the payment and integrity neighborhood, as it were, for a little while. But we’re also just getting started on trying to compute things like fraud. Again, we have a sister team that deals in fraud a lot. But we’re just sort of, as my southern cousin would say, we’re fixing to get ready on how we try and put just like we’re trying to compute the bounds. We don’t know yet. But we’d like to be able to compute the bounds of the size of the magnitude of the payment integrity piece. We also are making steps toward doing this in the fraud space. And then of course, in Barry’s team, they are looking at the improper payments overall and anything that we can come up with together. I think that that’s something that we might see emerge out of GAO, if not GFMIP as a whole.
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