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Washington notes: Sen. Tom Coburn fumes about Social Security Administration's problems recording deaths accurately

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, accused the Social Security Administration of “breathtaking incompetence'' last week in the wake of a report showing that the agency had failed to record 1.2 million deaths on a “death master file” relied on by federal and private entities.
by Chris Casteel Published: July 15, 2012
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Coburn fumes about inaccurate death file

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, accused the Social Security Administration of “breathtaking incompetence'' last week in the wake of a report showing that the agency had failed to record 1.2 million deaths on a “death master file” relied on by federal and private entities.

According to the inspector general for the Social Security Administration, the 1.2 million people died between 1980 and 2010. The deaths may have been recorded in other reports but didn't make it to the death master file because personally identifiable information didn't match; also, some death information was incorrectly deleted from the master file.

The inspector general found that nearly 700 who had been dead more than a year had earnings recorded in 2010 on the master earnings file. And 23 employers who made inquiries through the Internet system known as E-Verify received no information that the 23 subjects of the inquiries were dead.

The inspector general recommended that the Social Security Administration tighten its controls; the agency agreed.

Coburn said the failure to properly maintain the death master file “touches every payment made by the government” since agencies rely on it for sending benefits. Private entities such as banks, hospitals and others also rely on the information to prevent fraud.

Coburn has spoken out in the past about various agencies that have sent money to deceased people and said last week that it was “inexcusable the federal government can't determine whether a recipient of federal taxpayer money is alive or dead.”

He said, “Congress needs to hold SSA accountable for their breathtaking incompetence.”

In a written response to the inspector general's report, the agency said the report “should recognize the advances we have made to improve the consistency of the death information on our records and death reporting.”

The agency said it was also working on initiatives to improve the data and reduce errors in the future.

Lucas clears one hurdle, faces another on farm bill

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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