Working Our Way Up to 97 Percent

March 19, 2013 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

97 percent, huh? Can we really get that high? I’m pretty skeptical, but I wouldn’t mind if we reached that mark.

What am I talking about? Let me explain. The Obama administration recently issued the first-ever quarterly progress update on the government’s 14 Cross-Agency Priority Goals and 103 Agency Priority Goals. The administration established these goals in areas where it sought to achieve “accelerated performance improvement through focused senior leadership attention.” The quarterly updates will be posted on, and to learn more about the administration’s goals, go to the Clear Goals section of

One of the goals in this initiative concerning improper payments really sticks out to me. OMB states that “the federal government will achieve a payment accuracy rate of 97 percent by the end of 2016.” Let me reiterate that — 97 percent! Wow!

So what do the feds mean by 97 percent? Let’s look at the history of the federal payment error rate. In fiscal year 2009, the governmentwide improper payment rate was 5.42 percent. Since then, this error rate has been declining, down to 5.29 percent in FY 2010, 4.69 percent in FY 2011 and 4.35 percent in FY 2012. OMB anticipates this error rate will continue to decline to 3 percent by FY 2016, which makes a 97 percent payment accuracy rate. OMB also said that over the past three years, each percentage improvement in the accuracy rate equates to roughly $44 billion in improper payments avoided.

Sure the rate has a chance to continue to drop, but the percentage point difference between FY 2011 and FY 2012 was lower than from FY 2010 to FY 2011. We still have to drop another 1.35 percentage points in the next four years. I would like to say that is doable, but I have my doubts. Even the administration stated that while progress on the improper payments and other priority goals has generally been strong through the first quarter of FY 2013, “further progress may be slowed in selected areas if sequestration continues.” The march to 97 percent could be stymied along the way.

Let us know what you think. Can the federal government reach the 97 percent payment accuracy rate goal? We’d like to know your thoughts. Prove me wrong.


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