Mar 17 2015
“…You can’t dispute that there are still 6.5 million numbers that exist out there and even though they may not be drawing benefits on those numbers, it is still an issue whether it is voter registration or some other fraudulent use of a number so that is a concern.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During yesterday’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) hearing, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll, Jr. and Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for Budget, Finance, Quality and Management Sean Brune on the SSA’s unreliable and inconsistent death master file, as well as the failure to implement prior recommendations to fix existing deficiencies. The hearing follows a recent audit showing 6.5 million active Social Security numbers for persons over 112 years of age.
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SENATOR ERNST: Thank you Senator Johnson, I appreciate it. And thank you, everyone for your testimony today, I do appreciate it. Bottom line, up front, this is a situation we have to fix. I don't think anybody disagrees with that. So, what I would like to ask Inspector General O'Carroll, if you would please – what I'll do, I'll read this quote that came from the management at SSA, and this was in response to the IG’s findings and recommendations, “The recommendations would create a significant manual and labor-intensive work load, and provide no benefit to the administration of our programs.” Do you feel -- and I think we've talked about this, I heard some mention of this, but do you feel an accurate and reliable death master file is the responsibility of the SAA?
MR. O’CARROLL: The easy answer on that is yes. That I think that any data that SSA is providing to the government, to the public has to be accurate. That was pretty much the reason why we identified the 6.5 million, is that anybody knows when you're doing audits and things like that, you're looking for large outliers, and that's what this group was, was a large outlier. So, yes on that, I understand if you ask Sean, what he's going to say is that none of them are getting benefits from SSA and that SSA’s primary responsibility is the benefit, but my point on it is that – I think a good reason for this hearing, is that if there is the attention put on it by Congress that SSA needs to, you know – needs resources or whatever it needs to fix it, that's very important. Because as I said before, is that there's so many other different benefits in the states, in the government, plus what we're looking at with voter registration, and we're looking at driver's licenses, everything else, it's all based on this thing, and this is the only thing that's out there to refute it.
SENATOR ERNST: Yes, thank you, I would agree, and I think this is a good start. Yes, it is an easy answer to say yes, but we do know that now we need to move forward, and correct the deficiencies that are out there, there are so many improper payments that are going out, not to mention some of the issues that have been brought up with those not receiving payments, we also have fraudulent voter registrations, we have illegal use of numbers for employment or for government assistance, so many other issues that come with this, and I do believe that you have delivered around 70 recommendations to the Social Security Administration over the past number of years. And can you please tell us how many of those have been implemented over the years?
MR. O’CARROLL: Yes, of the 70 that we've recommended, well, first there's two steps to that, the first step is an agreement, we're getting about a 93% agreement level out of SSA. But, out of that 70, probably about 50 have been enacted. And, in fairness on some of them, as Sean just mentioned, is in the last six months, we've made maybe four or five audits with a lot of different recommendations on it, that they haven't had time enough to implement, but as an example on it, is that we watch them very closely, we go back every few years and take a look to see if they agreed with something, whether or not it was implemented, and if it wasn’t, we bring it to their attention.
SENATOR ERNST: And then with these recommendations and any others that are coming out, can any of you please to the panel just really give an overall cost estimate, man hours, additional time, any of those parameters that might, might be necessary to make sure that corrections were implemented?
MR. BRUNE: Senator, the recommendations that Mr. O’Carroll just mentioned that we agreed with, we're committed to making those changes within our appropriation. I did want to highlight that several of the Inspector General’s recommendations have improved our process. We find high value in following the advice the Inspector General has given us. I did want to close by underscoring the fact that as we stated earlier, in Mr. O’Carroll’s testimony as well as mine, the 6.5 million old records that Mr. O'Carroll looked at identified zero improper payments. In totality, death information for Social Security purposes is very, very accurate. Less than 1% of our benefit overpayments are resulting from death. Our processes have improved tremendously over the years, and the last decade our processes have grown substantially more robust. We're getting more accurate information, more timely, and we're able to intercept over $50 million of benefit dollars from over payments before they even get issued. So $50 million a month does not go out the door because of the accuracy and timeliness of the death reports we receive.
SENATOR ERNST: And that is a good thing, however you can’t dispute that there are still 6.5 million numbers that exist out there and even though they may not be drawing benefits on those numbers, it is still an issue whether it is photo registration or some other fraudulent use of a number so that is a concern.
MR. BRUNE: Correct. And I was just talking to Mr. O’Carroll before the hearing, and we have committed in our audit response to look at those records before the end of the fiscal year to do a full analysis of what can be used from those records to add dates of death or a death indicator to our database.
SENATOR ERNST: Very good, if Mr. Brune, if you were a lawmaker for a day what would your recommendation be, just bottom line, very easy. What would you recommendation be to this Congress?
MR. BRUNE: Fund all states to use electronic death reporting. The adoption rate has been steady since 2002 when we started, we only have 37 states and two jurisdictions. We need all states, all jurisdictions in every state using electronic death reporting. It is the most effective, accurate report we receive.
SENATOR ERNST: Ok, I do appreciate that. Thank you very much for your testimony today, thank you. Thank you Mr. Chair.
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