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.
After a meeting that began Wednesday morning and ended early the next day, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, accomplished his goal of steering a complex farm bill through the Agriculture Committee with strong bipartisan support.
But that may turn out to be the easy part for Lucas, who became chairman of the committee in 2011 when the GOP regained control of the U.S. House. Now he has to get his party's top leaders to let the whole House vote on it.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters that no decision has been made on whether to consider the bill before Congress leaves for its August recess. That raises serious questions about whether Congress will have time to complete work on a five-year bill before the current policy expires Sept. 30.
Even if the House could pass its own bill soon, it would have to be reconciled with a Senate version that has some major differences in crop support programs and food stamp reductions.
Boehner praised Lucas' work on the legislation and said it had some good reforms. But he said the bill would make the nation's “Soviet-style” dairy program even worse — a reference to a proposal in the bill to stabilize milk supplies. The committee defeated an attempt to kill that proposal.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said she would have joined those Democrats who voted against the bill in committee because of its $16.5 billion cuts to the food stamp program over 10 years.
The leaders' comments illustrate the problems the bill would face on the House floor from Republicans opposed to the government's continued involvement in production agriculture and Democrats opposed to the nutrition program cuts.
Before the committee action, Lucas said that he had not talked to House GOP leaders about scheduling a House vote because he didn't have a bill ready for floor action. Once he did, he said, he would seek floor time and accept anything they gave him, even if it was 10 p.m.
Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau