- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2000

A congressional study shows government programs are losing tens of billions of dollars annually to fraud, abuse and mismanagement of federal agencies, prompting House hearings when Congress returns later this month.

The study, conducted by the House Budget Committee, shows the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is losing $1 billion a year to fraud.

The Medicare program made "massive overpayments" totaling $12.6 billion in one year, according to the study, obtained yesterday by The Washington Times.

In addition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wasted $18 billion and let public housing neighborhoods "fester with crime and drugs."

The House Budget Committee based its study on inspector general and General Accounting Office investigations, as well as independent sources.

The initial draft contains figures from 1998 investigations, but the committee plans to update the study with 1999 figures before releasing it to the public. The release will coincide with the February announcement of President Clinton's budget for fiscal 2001, and hearings will be held by John R. Kasich, Ohio Republican and Budget Committee chairman.

Last year, Mr. Kasich proposed a 1 percent, across-the-board budget cut that would affect all agencies. His proposal was opposed by the administration, which said there was no room to make cuts and his proposal would hurt government services.

House leaders are hoping to showcase Mr. Kasich's study to show spending cuts must be made. Mr. Kasich has created a Web site that encourages everyone who logs on to report government waste and abuse in their local community (www.house.gov/budget).

"If the department heads are going to come before the House again and again and claim that it is impossible to find even one cent of waste, fraud or abuse in their departments, then I will personally go down to their office with a fine-tooth comb and show them where to look," said Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and majority whip.

John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the hearings will be a "very important component to this year's budget plans."

Mr. Kasich's spokesman, Terry Holt, said the committee found an appalling amount of waste in agencies responsible for helping poor people.

The report and hearings are meant to be an "exercise in shame" to showcase these "large amounts of money flushed down the drain," Mr. Holt said.

"That money was supposed to be helping people but it is being wasted or stolen," he said.

The study lists hundreds of examples of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars in government agencies, and fraud perpetrated against the federal government.

For example, in Baltimore, the public housing authority bought eight new Chevy Blazers as take-home cars for top managers, hired a security firm that employed 29 convicted felons, and sold more than $25 million worth of contracts for building repairs to their friends and relatives.

In spite of these disclosures, the study said HUD went on to give the housing authority $115 million to build new apartment units.

Many states have switched from food stamps to an electronic food stamp program, but problems persists.

In New Jersey, 16 persons who owned 10 food stores illegally trafficked an estimated $6.5 million in benefits from 920 food stamp recipients. Three years after the fraud was uncovered, only 582 of those recipients who participated in the fraud have been suspended from the food stamp program.

Convicted felons in prison are not eligible for SSI payments, however mass murderer William Bonin, California's infamous "freeway killer," received more than $75,000 in SSI disability benefits from his claim of mental illness during his 14 years awaiting execution on death row. His mother used the money to pay off her mortgage.

The payments stopped only after Bonin was finally executed and the funeral director filed paperwork on his death.

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