Good News: Federal Agencies Caught Mailing Millions of Dollars in Subsidies to Dead Farmers

Posted: Jul 29, 2013 4:00 PM

In fairness, “caught” might be the wrong word in this particular instance. Surely federal workers didn’t mean for this to happen, naturally. But still, if you ever needed more evidence that the federal government is dysfunctional, inept, and not working properly, here it is (via the Washington Times):

The federal government is still paying out millions of dollars a year in subsidies to dead farmers, according to a new government audit released Monday that said the Agriculture Department doesn’t do routine checks required to make sure it is paying benefits to the right people.

The Government Accountability Office said that from 2008 to 2012 one agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, made $10.6 million payments on behalf of more than 1,100 people who’d been dead at least a year. Another branch, the Risk Management Agency, paid out $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who’d been dead at least two years.

Some of the payments may have been legal because they were for work done before the farmers died, but GAO said the problem is the two agencies don’t perform the routine checks — such as looking at the Social Security lists — to see.

“Until and unless NRCS and RMA develop and implement procedures to have their payment or subsidy data records matched against SSA’s complete death master file, either through coordination with FSA or on their own, these agencies cannot know if they are providing payments to, or subsidies on behalf of, deceased individuals; how often they are providing such payments or subsidies; or in what amounts,” the investigators wrote.

And the excuse the government gave? Well, we have safeguards against making these kinds of errors, but they’re not really working correctly, or something:

In its official response to the audit, the Agriculture Department said it does have some procedures in place to check to see if it is paying live beneficiaries.

But the department acknowledged their procedures “were not effectively and consistently implemented to identify deceased individuals.”

How hard is it to do a basic fact check to make sure that the recipients of government checks are in fact breathing? Apparently very difficult, it would seem. Meanwhile, this type of abuse and incompetence raises an important question. With regard to the debate over immigration reform, for example, do politicians in Washington really expect Americans to believe that the federal government is fully capable of “securing the border” someday when in reality they can’t even complete a rudimentary fact check? Seriously. Given the federal government’s appalling track record when it comes to being (ahem) "efficient" -- especially when audited -- even if the “Gang of Eight” bill puts securing the border first (which it clearly doesn’t) do the feds even have the manpower, resources and/or desire to make this happen? I'm not entirely convinced.

I would like to think so, of course, but the truth is that government audits rarely, if ever, inspire confidence in federal agencies. And today's findings are no exception.

Recommended Townhall Video