We’d like our $175 billion back, please
Years ago, I was hosting a townhall in Delaware and, as part of the townhall, we had an activity where Delawareans could actually try to balance our government’s budget. At that townhall, a woman said something to me that I have never forgotten. She said, “I don’t mind paying taxes, I just don’t want you to waste my money.” This comment has really stuck with me over the years and continues to remind me of the important obligation all elected officials have to ensure taxpayer dollars are used wisely.
Last night, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent, nonpartisan government watchdog, released a report showing that the federal government misspent $175 billion as a result of improper payments in 2019. That’s $175 billion in just one year! And a 15 percent increase from 2018.
You might be wondering: what exactly are improper payments?
Well, the non-profit, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, explains it best. “Improper payments are exactly like they sound: overpayments or underpayments made to the wrong people, at the wrong time, for the wrong reason, or with the wrong documentation.” This kind of waste puts an added strain on our already stretched-thin federal budget, and GAO’s latest report comes at a time where we may well see our nation’s budget deficit reach – and even exceed – $1 trillion in the next fiscal year. This cannot be the new normal.
As government officials, one of our most important responsibilities is to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. That’s why, for years, I have worked across the aisle to assess federal government spending and eliminate billions of taxpayer dollars in waste, fraud and abuse. It’s not always a glamorous job, and it doesn’t often make the headlines on cable news, but it is important work that helps to make sure our government is running more effectively and efficiently.
While I was disappointed to learn that improper payments increased last year, there is good news. On the very same day that GAO released these new numbers, the bipartisan bill that I authored with my colleagues Senators Ron Johnson, Gary Peters, and Mike Braun to tackle and reduce improper payments was signed into law! The Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 – common sense legislation to cut down on government waste and improper payments – has finally became the law of the land and help put our country on a more fiscally sustainable path.
Specifically, the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 will:
- Require agencies to undertake additional efforts and develop plans to prevent improper payments before they happen.
- Improve the way agencies identify programs with the highest risk of improper payments.
- Require the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to issue guidance to improve annual reporting on agencies’ compliance with improper payments statutes.
- Create a working group that will enable federal agencies to collaborate with each other and non-federal partners, such as state governments, to develop strategies for addressing key drivers of improper payments, such as fraud and eligibility determinations in state-managed federal benefits programs.
The money saved from this bill can be put to good use, like funding life-saving health care programs, cleaning up our environment, investing in our decades-old infrastructure or simply reducing budget deficits. It can help us create the big, bold, transformative investments that improve the lives of people across this country all while allowing us to get our fiscal house in order.
Elected officials, both in Congress and in the Administration, must be able to work together to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges. And while this bill is a win-win for taxpayers and the federal government alike, there is much more work to be done. That’s why I’ll never stop working for Delawareans and Americans across the country to safeguard their taxpayer dollars.