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GAO: Biden admin hid 'susceptible' programs from total of $236B improper payments for 2023

The programs in fiscal year 2023 that went unreported to the government watchdog, which has tracked trillions of payments made in error since 2003, fell under the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Published: March 27, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: March 30, 2024 11:47am

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals that federal agencies have reported about $2.7 trillion in "total improper payments" since the fiscal year 2003 and $236 billion in fiscal year 2023 alone but that “government-wide estimate potentially does not represent the full extent of improper payments.”

The reason the fiscal year 2023 total doesn't tell the full story of improper payments government-wide is because some agencies did not report the totals from select federal programs "susceptible to significant improper payments," the GAO explained in their report, released publicly on Tuesday.

These programs that went unreported to the government watchdog include the Department of Health and Human Services' Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Public and Indian Housing's Tenant Based Rental Assistance program and the Office of Multifamily Housing's Project-Based Rental Assistance program.

While the $236 billion total is about $11 billion less than fiscal year 2022's total, the GAO noted that the total would be higher with those additional programs included. 

Among the improper payment totals that federal agencies reported to GAO for fiscal year 2023, about $175 billion, more than 74% were characterized as "overpayments," the watchdog found. The GAO defines improper payments as "those that should not have been made or were made in the incorrect amount."

GAO reported that improper payments "represent a material deficiency or weakness in internal controls" across the federal government. "Specifically, GAO has noted that the federal government is unable to determine the full extent of its improper payments or to reasonably assure that appropriate actions are taken to reduce them," read the watchdog's latest report.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., and House Committee on the Budget Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, co-leaders of the Improper Payments Working Group, called for the U.S. government to do more to reduce the amount of improper payments each year.

Arrington noted that the $236 billion figure of "fraudulent and wasteful payments" represents more than what the U.S. government spent on Homeland Security, the Department of Education, and NASA combined.

"In fact, since 2003, nearly $3 trillion in taxpayer dollars have been squandered on improper payments, a figure that is as stunning as it is unacceptable. In order to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington we must root out the gross mismanagement of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars, rein in spending, and reverse the curse of a debt crisis that looms large over our children’s future,” said Arrington in a statement.

Comer also described the findings in the latest GAO report as "unacceptable," adding that it's a systematic problem across the government.

“As our national debt continues to balloon, it’s imperative we reduce government spending and waste. It’s unacceptable our federal government made $236 billion in improper payments during the last fiscal year. This systemic mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars must be addressed. Our Improper Payments Working Group will continue to identify ways to address improper payments and ensure the federal government better stewards Americans’ hard-earned money,” Comer said in a statement.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, has been outspoken about the recurring problem of improper payments. She said the government has made about $764 billion in improper payments since fiscal year 2021.

"The government issued over $236 billion of improper payments in FY23, more than the entire annual budget of the US Army," Hinson wrote in an X post with a clip of her speaking about the issue. "I’m working to ensure the Administration takes steps to prevent improper payments & stops letting taxpayer dollars fly out the door."

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said on Wednesday that the "staggering" amount of improper payment must be addressed.

"Any amount of waste from improper payments is unacceptable - but this report highlights just how staggering a problem the federal government faces," Perry wrote on the social media platform X. "Just this year, nearly a QUARTER OF A TRILLION of your tax dollars were wasted on improper payments. We can and must do better to ensure that the executive branch is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars."

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