|By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press|
Congressional investigators say the figure could be even higher.
The Obama administration has reduced the amount of improper payments since they peaked in 2010. Still, estimates from federal agencies show that some are wasting big money at a time when
"Nobody knows exactly how much taxpayer money is wasted through improper payments, but the federal government's own astounding estimate is more than half a trillion dollars over the past five years," said Rep.
Mica chairs the
Each year, federal agencies are required to estimate the amount of improper payments they issue. They include overpayments, underpayments, payments to the wrong recipient and payments that were made without proper documentation.
Some improper payments are the result of fraud, while others are unintentional, caused by clerical errors or mistakes in awarding benefits without proper verification.
In 2013, federal agencies made
The amount of improper payments has steadily dropped since 2010, when it peaked at
The Obama administration has stepped up efforts to measure improper payments, identify the cause and develop plans to reduce them, said
"We have strengthened accountability and transparency, saving the American people money while improving the fiscal responsibility of federal programs," Cobert said in a statement ahead of Wednesday's hearing. "We are pleased with this progress, but know that we have more work to do in this area."
However, a new report by the
"The federal government is unable to determine the full extent to which improper payments occur and reasonably assure that appropriate actions are taken to reduce them,"
Davis said some agencies don't develop estimates for programs that could be susceptible to improper payments. For example, the Health and
The largest sources of improper payments are government health care programs, according to agency estimates.
Most of the payments were deemed improper because they were issued without proper documentation, said
"Payments deemed 'improper' under these circumstances tend to be the result of documentation and coding errors made by the provider as opposed to payments made for inappropriate claims," Agrawal said in prepared testimony for Wednesday's hearing.
Among other programs with large amounts of improper payments:
—The earned income tax credit, which provides payments to the working poor in the form of tax refunds. Last year, improper payments totaled
The EITC is one of the largest anti-poverty programs in the U.S., providing
"EITC eligibility depends on items that the
The program is expanding under President
—Unemployment insurance, a joint federal-state program that provides temporary benefits to laid-off workers. Amount of improper payments last year:
—Supplemental Security Income, a disability program for the poor run by the
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