Social Security Report Calls for Increased Attention to the Death Master File

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee Chairwoman Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) highlighted a report detailing troublesome yet preventable errors in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) master database of deceased individuals.

The SSA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report, “Title XVI Deceased Recipients Who Do Not Have Death Information on the Numident,” found that over 180,000 deceased individuals had not been added to the Death Master File, the comprehensive database of individuals maintained by SSA, even though these same individuals had been reported as deceased to the SSA Supplemental Security Records. Errors of this type put at risk to waste and fraud billions of dollars in federal and state beneficiary expenditures each year. As part of its oversight on federal financial management, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee will hold a hearing on improper payments, including those made to deceased individuals, this Wednesday, May 8 at 10 AM.

“Today’s report from the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General highlights a fundamental set of problems with how we report and keep track of deceased individuals,” said Chairman Carper. “Errors like this cost taxpayers millions of dollars in waste and fraud each year, and could be easily fixed by implementing some basic reforms. Preventing wasteful spending, including to deceased individuals, must be a higher priority. I hope the Social Security Administration will take the findings in this report to heart and work to prevent these overpayments in the future.”

“Every person – living or deceased – who is wrongfully added to the disability rolls takes dollars and benefits away from those who are truly disabled,” said Ranking Member Coburn. “This report underscores the need for the Social Security Administration to reform its broken system.”

“Accurate tracking in this area is critical to our efforts to stop improper payments, which at last count were more than $100 billion across the federal government,” said Senator McCaskill, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight. “This is the low-hanging fruit of identifying and preventing such payments. The Social Security Administration needs to share this data with other federal agencies and fix this problem—and ensure that every penny of benefits is going straight to those that actually need them.”

“Without up-to-date information, it’s impossible to ensure that benefits are reaching the people who have earned them – and not being improperly paid out,” said Senator Johnson, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight. “This report by the OIG will help the Social Security Administration fix incorrect records and ensure they are accurate going forward.”

The OIG recommends that SSA analyze and reassess its death processing systems to ensure that death information is accurately updated on the Death Master File. Additionally, the report suggests that SSA periodically compare the Death Master File with the Supplemental Security Records to ensure that all deceased individuals are properly accounted for.