Chairman Carper Highlights GAO Report on Protecting and Improving Government Data in Order to Reduce Improper Payments, Protect Personal Information
WASHINGTON- Today, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) highlighted a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailing how federal agencies should improve their procedures for sharing data. The report, Computer Matching Act: OMB and Selected Agencies Need to Ensure Consistent Implementation, found that laws and official guidance governing the sharing of federal data are antiquated, confusing and often not followed by government agencies. These problems prevent proper oversight necessary to curb waste and fraud, including improper payments, protect public safety, and have contributed to additional vulnerabilities in the protection of personal information.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined Chairman Carper as co-requestors on the report.
“This GAO report underscores the widespread problems that occur when simple procedures, like agency data-sharing, are outdated and flawed. The good news is that these problems can be fixed today without passing a new law. All the Administration has to do is provide new, straightforward guidance that bring our rules into the 21st century,” said Chairman Carper. “I have reached out to the Office of Management and Budget to highlight the GAO’s findings and have asked that the Administration work with Congress to establish rules that are clear and more effective regarding the sharing of information so our government agencies can better serve the American people.”
The GAO report found that federal agencies do not consistently follow the computer matching provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974 when sharing information with other agencies. Much of the guidance that is currently in place was written in the 1970s and 1980s, long before the use of electronic data was common. As a result, each agency tends to have different standards of how to protect the integrity of data, and of when to share data with other agencies. According to the GAO, OMB stated in 1989 that it would update its guidance, but never did so.
The GAO report gives examples of the importance of effective data sharing and shows how the proper use of data will help agencies secure billions of dollars in savings to both the federal and state governments, due to improved scrutiny over government payments. For example, by sharing information about federal program beneficiaries who have died, agencies can promptly stop payments. The report also states that if proper controls are not in place, inappropriate data sharing could lead to inappropriate use and, “…adversely affect the privacy and due process rights of individuals whose records are being matched.” Individuals could unfairly lose government benefits if eligibility decisions are based on matches that are made using inaccurate data. The report also points out problems encountered by the inspectors general of government agencies in obtaining basic information that can uncover fraud.
In 2012, Congress passed the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act, sponsored by Senators Carper, Coburn and Collins, which include requirements to update guidance of the Privacy Act computer matching provisions.