During his political campaign, President Donald Trump famously said that he wanted to “drain the swamp” and root out waste and corruption in Washington, D.C. Now he is no doubt finding that the swamp is even deeper and muckier than he imagined.
There certainly is no shortage of targets for eliminating the now-cliché “waste, fraud and abuse,” which has, unfortunately, become more of a political slogan than a legitimate call to action. If the administration is serious about addressing this substantial issue, however, improper payments would be a good place to start.
During the last fiscal year, the federal government made more than $144 billion in improper payments — a whopping 243 percent increase just since 2007. The bulk of this comes from the Medicare Fee-for-Service ($41.1 billion), Medicaid ($36.3 billion), Medicare Advantage (Part C) ($16.2 billion) and Earned Income Tax Credit ($16.8 billion) programs.
Congress attempted to get somewhat of a handle on the problem when it passed the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010, which requires affected agencies to identify improper payments, devise and implement a corrective action plan, meet reduction targets and report on progress in reducing error rates. But in May, a U.S. Government Accountability Office analysis of reports from agencies’ inspector generals found that 15 of the 24 agencies reviewed — which together accounted for 96 percent of all improper payments in FY 2015 — were not in compliance with these requirements. Even this may be an optimistic analysis, since some IGs considered an agency to be in compliance if it merely filed the proper paperwork, without attempting to determine whether the information was actually accurate.
Among other head-scratching examples of government agencies’ derelict management of taxpayers’ money, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction revealed in June that the Pentagon had wasted $28 million purchasing the wrong kind of camouflage for the Afghan National Army over the previous eight-plus years. Not only was the green, woodland camouflage pattern unsuitable for the predominantly tan Afghan landscape — defeating the purpose of the uniforms by making the soldiers actually stand out — but the Defense Department also overpaid for a proprietary pattern that had a “significantly higher” cost than similar nonproprietary alternatives.
“My concern is what if the [Afghan] minister of defense liked…