- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The government paid out more than $1.7 million in benefits to Americans who’d died years ago, and who the feds’ chief personnel office knew were dead — but forgot to tell the Social Security Administration.

While only accounting for a small number of cases out of the tens of millions handled a year, it’s still an embarrassing black eye for both Social Security and the Office of Personnel Management, which combine to handle the records of most Americans.

Nearly three dozen people were identified by investigators, including one who had been confirmed to have died in 1991, but which the Office of Personnel Management never reported to Social Security.

SSA receives death reports from other federal agencies — but not OPM,” said Social Security’s acting inspector general, Gale Stallworth Stone, in a report this week.

Both agencies promised to do better, saying they hope to have the situation solved by the beginning of the next fiscal year.

The OPM handles retirement benefits such as health coverage for federal workers, and tracks when its beneficiaries pass away.

Likewise, Social Security pays out retirement benefits and tracks when its beneficiaries die. But in a staggering oversight, the two agencies have not squared their files.

Investigators identified one Georgia woman who OPM knew died in 2007, but whose death was never reported to Social Security. That agency paid nearly $70,000 between her death and 2015, when investigators finally caught wind of it.

None of the money had been recovered as of this spring, and prosecutors declined to pursue a case against the woman’s son — but Social Security investigators did reach a settlement that calls for him to pay nearly $65,000 in penalties.

In the District of Columbia, seven people continued to collect benefits after their death, to the tune of more than $440,000. None of that money had been recovered as of May, auditors said. Another four residents of Maryland collected benefits totaling nearly $127,000.

The highest average payment went to two residents of Illinois, who collected nearly $300,000 after their deaths.

The government has only recovered $1,873 of that money.

Social Security did not respond to questions from The Washington Times, but in its official response to the inspector general, it promised to do better, and said the OPM-related error rate was a small fraction of the nearly $1 trillion the agency paid out in 2015.

“The $1.7 million overpayment cited in the report represents less than one-tenth of a percent of total benefit payments. Over the years we have made, and will continue to make, enhancements to ensure our death data is accurate and to stop payments when we receive confirmed death reports,” Social Security told investigators.

The OPM didn’t respond to questions from The Times about how the problem arose and why it’s taken so long to fix. But a spokeswoman insisted the agency is working on the issue.

OPM continues to work with SSA to better streamline the flow of information between the two agencies by FY 2017,” Lindsay Haake said in an emailed statement.

In addition to the dead Americans, investigators said they found 19 people that were still alive, even though the OPM had listed them as dead. In nine of those cases, the OPM had even purged the records of the cases.

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