Carper, Coburn Introduce Legislation to Curb Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced legislation that would provide agencies with the tools needed to improve agency coordination on anti-waste and fraud efforts and curb millions of dollars in improper payments to deceased individuals. The Improper Payments Agency Cooperation Enhancements Act (IPACE) is bipartisan legislation that builds upon improper payment laws, enacted in 2010 and 2012, that were championed by Chairman Carper.

“In 2011, it was reported that a Delaware man collected 28 years of Social Security payments that were meant for his deceased aunt because the federal government did not include her death in its basic records,” said Chairman Carper. “Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon and can too often be traced to basic errors in the way our government maintains and shares death records. Not only do these types of errors waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars annually, but they also undermine confidence in our government.  That’s frankly unacceptable, especially when this problem can be easily fixed by implementing some basic reforms. Our bill ensures that the federal government makes it a higher priority to keep track of people who have died, shares that information with key federal agencies, and ultimately prevents payments to people who are obviously no longer eligible for federal benefits and other federal payments.  By taking some long overdue and common sense steps like providing federal agencies with access to the most complete and accurate list of people who have died, we can hopefully put an end to this unacceptable practice once and for all.” 

“It is inexcusable for bureaucratic red-tape to hinder the detection of individuals who are on the government’s list of deceased beneficiaries,” Dr. Coburn said.  “This bill will improve the Social Security Administration’s management of the file while increasing real-time data sharing with other agencies to ensure the most up-to-date information is available on beneficiaries before payments are disbursed.”

This legislation comes after a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in May that examined initiatives by the Executive Branch to reduce the improper payments made by federal agencies.  The hearing examined improper payments to deceased individuals, often due to inadequate sharing among federal agencies of basic death data maintained by the Social Security Administration (SSA).  SSA maintains the Death Master File (DMF), which contains identifying information on individuals who are reported to have died.  Most federal agencies rely on a slimmed down, incomplete, and less timely version of the DMF that is also publically available. IPACE will correct these problems by making the following changes:

  • Allowing federal agencies access to the complete Death Master File database. Under current law, only agencies with beneficiary program have access to the complete DMF. IPACE specifically allows all federal agencies to have access to the complete DMF, for program integrity purposes, as well other needs such as public safety and health.
  • Requiring use of death data to curb improper payments.  IPACE would require that federal agencies make appropriate use of the DMF in order to curb improper payments.
  • Improving the Death Master File.  IPACE establishes procedures to better facilitate the sharing of data about instances of death among federal agencies, including with SSA. Currently, there are no clear procedures for agencies, such as the Department of Defense, to share their notices of death in order to update the DMF. IPACE also establishes new requirements for correcting the DMF when errors are detected, in order to ensure accuracy.
  • Ensure that federal agencies managing retirement programs share best practices. IPACE establishes a short-term task force to identify and share best practices for identifying deceased recipients.