OIG Auditors Recognized for Effective Reviews of SSA’s Death Data

Beyond the Numbers

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Posted by: 
The Office of External Relations

When our audit work reveals critical issues, spurs corrective actions, and is commended by our peers, we know we’re doing our job. 

Today, at its annual awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) recognized individuals and groups in the inspector general community for their outstanding accomplishments.

We’re proud to say that a team of our experienced auditors received one of CIGIE’s highest awards—the Glenn/Roth Award for Exemplary Service—for its ongoing, extensive, and effective reviews related to SSA’s Death Master File (DMF), the list of people in Social Security’s records who have been reported as deceased.

In the past five years, this 13-member team, led by the Assistant Inspector General for Audit and the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audit, completed nine significant audits that identified deficiencies with SSA’s processing of death information.

Those audits identified several critical issues, including:

  • the issuance of about $100 million in improper payments to thousands of deceased individuals;
  • the incorrect publication of tens of thousands of living individuals’ personal information on the DMF; and
  • the omission of about 1.4 million deceased individuals’ death information from the DMF. 

The audit results, alone, are noteworthy, but the team took the next step and, several times, presented its reports and recommendations to Members of Congress.  Our auditors explained the significance of their findings and suggested congressional actions that could mitigate the issues identified.

Their efforts were worthwhile.

In January 2013, after several congressional hearings on the accuracy of the government’s death data, Congress passed the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act.  The law requires Federal agencies to match government benefit recipients against the DMF, to ensure payment accuracy.

Further, when Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Agreement in December 2013, the legislation placed restrictions on public access to death information via the DMF—primarily by requiring those who purchase the information to be certified as having a legitimate need for the information.  (Anybody not certified can only access DMF records that are more than three years old.)  These changes will help reduce abuse of deceased individuals’ personal information, and prevent identity theft for individuals who are mistakenly listed on the DMF while they are still alive.

The President also recently proposed funding to improve the accuracy of the DMF and to increase Federal agency use of the DMF to curb improper payments.

Some of the team’s recent DMF-related reports include:

Congratulations are in order for these auditors, but they’re not alone, as numerous other OIG employees contributed to projects that garnered five additional CIGIE Team Awards for Excellence:             

  • The Direct Deposit Fraud Team identified weaknesses in SSA’s controls over direct deposit changes and user authentication.
  • The Representative Payee Team identified data anomalies that indicated significant risks of improper payments to individuals or organizations acting as representative payees.
  • The Civil Monetary Penalty Litigation Leadership Team supervised the successful resolution of 280 cases in fiscal year 2013, imposing more than $15 million in civil monetary penalties.
  • The Puerto Rico Investigations Team uncovered a large-scale disability fraud conspiracy including third-party facilitators.
  • The Social Security Number Verification Team identified significant weaknesses with SSA’s oversight of its verification programs, which may have led to the improper disclosure of personal information.

Thanks to CIGIE for recognizing the excellent work that Federal inspector general employees are doing across the country to improve Federal Government integrity and performance for all Americans.