Government waste playbook highlights 'fumbles'

An inaccurate death database, a $5 million anti-terror Twitter account, and an underused federal emergency management IT system are among the fumbles in a new congressional report that highlights wasteful missteps in federal spending.

Those three examples are among the dozens of projects listed in Sen. James Lankford's (R-Okla.) "Federal Fumbles" report, which was released on Nov. 30.

Lankford's report follows in the tradition of his predecessor, retired Sen. James Coburn, whose annual "Wastebook" report for years chronicled federal boondoggles and spendthrift practices. Lankford, however, said his document wasn't an attempt to carry on the legacy, as much as it was an additional call to action for Congress to help solve the larger federal deficit issue.

Among a list of 126 federal programs, practices and inefficiencies listed in the report was the federal government's inability to report out accurate data on taxpayer deaths to its agencies. Inaccuracies in the Social Security Administration's Death Master File, the list is used as a reference source for many public and private institutions to access accurate data of the American population, can lead to fraud and abuse, the report said.

The impact of inaccurate and "shoddy" death data "remains to be entirely realized," Lankford warns. The problem allegedly is persistent at SSA because of the agency's "insistence that it is not in the business of collecting and distributing death records, despite its long history of doing so."

The "Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act," a bill  introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), could help, said the study, directing the SSA to provide complete data on deaths to all appropriate federal agencies, establish more accurate death data collection and better integrate state and local data.

Lankford's report also called out the State Department's Center for Counterterrorism Communication's $5 million Twitter account. The account's aim, to "turn away" possible recruits from terrorism, is admirable, the report states, but the price tag doesn't justify a "task all middleschoolers can accomplish -- tweeting about something." Lankford urged the State Department to provide metrics on how projects like the Twitter feed benefit taxpayers.

Another IT system on the list was the Federal Emergency Management Agency's $247 million Logistics Supply Chain Management System.

The system itself, set up after Hurricane Katrina to help the agency coordinate disaster relief with other agencies and non-profit aid organizations, is a good one, Lankford said, but FEMA doesn't know how to use it and hasn't trained its workers to use it effectively.

The report recommended more oversight of FEMA's implementation of the system, conducting annual assessments of the program and develop an internal efficiency reporting process. 

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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