- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2000

Who wants to be a millionaire 2,000 times over? Practically everyone, but the ones who stand healthy odds of actually getting there are the individuals and business to whom 12 government agencies made over $20 billion in overpayments to during fiscal year (FY) '99. As recently reported by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) in response to a query from Sen. Fred Thompson, there were many forms of improper payments, ranging from simple overpayments to outright fraud.

Even though far to much ink has already been spilled about bureaucRATS (OOPS, that one slipped out), the waste is still worth being "cheezed off" about, since it comes at an estimated cost of $300 per American family.

That is most likely an extremely low estimate, according to the GAO report, "Because the methodologies used by some agencies to estimate improper payments do not always result in complete estimates, and many other agencies have not attempted to identify or estimate improper payments, the government does not have a reasonable basis for gauging the extent of its improper payments."

In fact, only half of the government agencies mandated to prepare such financial statements have actually done so. Delinquent departments include the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Education, and the Department of Education.

Rep. Dan Burton has proposed increasing agency accountability through H.R. 1827, the Federal Waste Corrections Act of 2000, which passed through the House earlier this year by an overwhelming majority. If signed into law, H.R. 1827 will require federal agencies to use "recovery audits," so-called because they use computer programs to identify differences between what was owed and what was paid, for all payment activities of $500 million or more.

Friends of federal largess argue that waste inherently plagues business with bureaucrats, and that the overpayments amounted to less than 2 percent of the FY '99 budget surely too insignificant to pester anyone about while the budget is in the black.

Yet the same argument could apply to cutting down forests because they have plenty of trees. Besides, Americans are required to make numerous financial disclosures to the government each year. If their bookkeeping is inadequate, then they are given the dubious privilege of being audited by the same agency that refuses to report its own overpayments.

Our representatives in Congress should insist that government agencies cease scurrying away whenever they are required to account for holes in their spending. If the Department of Energy is unable to find its laptops, perhaps they could borrow a few calculators from the Department of Education so that they can both procure the necessary sums.

The Senate would do well to pass the Federal Waste Corrections Act of 2000 as soon as possible, since the sooner the government stops making billion dollar overpayments, the sooner the rest of us will have a chance to play our real-life round of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

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