Nextgov: Lawmakers update proposal to cut down on billions in improper payments

NEXTGOV, NATALIE ALMS

The House Budget Committee last week voted to pass a bipartisan proposal from Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Blake Moore, R-Utah, meant to beef up reporting requirements related to improper payments. 

The proposal comes after the Government Accountability Office reported in March that the executive branch made an estimated $236 billion in improper payments in fiscal 2023.

Improper payments are those that shouldn’t have been made or were made in the wrong amount — a category that includes but isn’t limited to fraud. Most improper payments in fiscal 2023 were concentrated in only five government programs, according to GAO, including some pandemic-era programs.

The Enhancing Improper Payment Accountability Act would require agencies to report out their anti-fraud controls and fraud risk management work to Congress in annual financial reports. 

The bill would also require annual budget requests to supply information on agencies that aren’t reporting on improper payments as required, and it would designate all new federal spending programs that make more than $100 million in payments annually in their first three fiscal years as “susceptible to significant improper payments” in their first four years of operation. 

That language would make those programs subject to statutory requirements around estimating and reporting on improper payments, according to GAO, which has previously recommended that lawmakers make this change. 

The proposal would make such programs subject to these requirements under the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019, which tasks agencies with directions to implement internal controls to prevent improper payments and publicly report on improper payment estimates and other information.

GAO has also made recommendations that lawmakers reinstate anti-fraud reporting in financial reports.

This isn’t the first anti-fraud proposal from the duo. Spanberger and Moore also reintroduced a similar proposal last year that would change the threshold for the PIIA. 

A spokesperson for Spanberger confirmed that the new bill is the result of work with Moore’s office “to make a few small tweaks that allowed the updated legislation to pass out of the Budget Committee last week.”

“Congress has a responsibility to both stand up programs that address the pressing needs of Americans and protect their hard-earned dollars,” Spanberger said in a statement about the latest proposal. “Improper payments and fraud not only hurt American taxpayers — but also hurt the members of our communities who federal programs are created to assist and diminish public trust in the federal government’s role managing taxpayer dollars.”

Moore called the proposal “part of the House Budget Committee’s package to tackle improper payments.”

That committee marked up and reported out Moore and Spanberger’s bill last week, along with another, transparency-focused bipartisan proposal aimed at improper payments, dubbed the Improper Payments Transparency Act. 

That proposal — backed by Reps. Rudy Yakym, R-Ind., Scott Peters, D-Calif., Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif, and Jack Bergman, R-Minn. — would require annual budget requests to include certain information about improper payments, including details on why they are happening in different government programs. 

“The House Budget Committee has a plan to rein in improper payments, starting with focusing on the serial offenders. Every dollar lost to improper payments and fraud represents a theft from the American people,” House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, said in a statement earlier this month.

So far, neither of the proposals have Senate counterparts.

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