Root, Root, Root Through the Payments

February 15, 2012 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

Today’s topic: roots. It seems that when we’re focusing on the core of an issue, we always call it the root (e.g., the root of the problem, the root of all evil, etc.). Now we can expect to hear this word more often from federal grantor agencies as they must determine the root causes of improper payments.

To help advance the federal improper payment reduction goal, the Office of Management and Budget required federal agencies beginning in FY 2011 to classify the root cause of estimated improper payments into three categories: documentation and administrative errors, authentication and medical necessity errors, and verification errors. However, they have generally been a bit hesitant in meeting this requirement.

At a House subcommittee hearing last week, a representative from the Government Accountability Office said that although agencies reported some description of the causes for improper payments in their FY 2011 reports, many agencies did not use the three categories to classify the types of errors and quantify how many errors were attributed to those categories. Of the 79 programs with improper payment estimates in fiscal year 2011, federal agencies reported the root cause information under the three categories for 42 programs, which represented about 40 percent of the $115 billion in improper payments estimated in FY 2011. “Without detailed and specific information, agencies are really hampered in their ability to take action and reduce improper payments,” the GAO’s Beryl Davis told the subcommittee (more information on the hearing will be available in the March issue of the Single Audit Information Service).

I would hope that over time, agencies will be more proactive in reporting the root causes of improper payments because there is a great deal of information that can be gleaned from that kind of data to help agencies take corrective actions. I, for one, will be (ahem) rooting for them!

Providing this information seems simple enough to me. However, if you’re a federal government official who has to report information on the root causes of improper payments, we’d like to know if there are any complexities in providing this data.


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