In May the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that found shortcomings during the first five years of the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010 (IPERA). Coincidentally, shortly thereafter, the U.S. Attorney’s office stated in a press release that a man was sentenced to three years in prison for a decade long mass fraud scheme that “victimized 16 different federal, state, local, and private entities, including agencies, programs, organizations, individuals and benevolent institutions such as Disabled American Veterans,” defrauding government programs for more than $646,000.
Darryl Wright defrauded a hoard of government agencies and programs including the Veterans Administration, Social Security Disability, Washington State Employment Security, and the Department of Commerce. First, Wright claimed he was disabled by a rocket attack, which did not occur, and received $83,967 through the Veteran’s Caregiver program for a full time caretaker as he was “traveling, playing basketball, caring for his child and serving on the Snoqualmie Planning Commission.”
Further, declaring he was too disabled to get a job, Wright claimed $181,438 in Social Security Disability benefits even though he held a full time position at the Department of Commerce. He then later claimed disability from his job at the Department of Commerce and received $48,226 through the Office of Personnel Management. In addition, “Wright defrauded Washington State Employment Security by collecting $29,860 in unemployment benefits claiming he was able and willing to work while simultaneously claiming to the Social Security Administration that he was fully disabled and unable to be employed.” Finally, Wright used his disability status to avoid paying more than $41,068 in student loans to the Department of Education.
It is not hard to see that this incident was a total breakdown of federal controls. How is it possible that a man can collect benefits for working, while simultaneously collecting benefits claiming he was unable to work? What makes this situation even more unbelievable is that this man was employed by the federal government! While the Inspector Generals of the agencies Wright defrauded did eventually root out his scheme, it took over a decade to uncover that he had stolen $646,000 from the American taxpayer.
While this story is particularly outlandish, it is important for taxpayers to know that this is not a one time incident. In fact, according to the GAO report referenced earlier, from 2003 to 2016 total government wide improper payments are estimated to be over $1.2 trillion. In addition, “15 of the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act) agencies were reported by their inspectors general (IG) as noncompliant under IPERA for fiscal year 2015. The programs associated with these 15 agencies accounted for $132 billion (or about 96 percent) of the reported $136.7 billion government-wide improper payment estimate for fiscal year 2015.”
IPERA was passed into law to make sure federal tax dollars are not misspent and improper payment estimates are reliable. Since 2011, IGs have made 425 recommendations through IPERA reports, but only 320 have been closed. While IPERA has certainly helped some agencies take better care of federal dollars, the report makes clear that there is more work to be done.
For example, seven agencies were reported as noncompliant for three or more consecutive years at the end of fiscal year 2015. As mentioned above, the programs at these agencies make up 96% of all improper payments, and have consistently since IPERA was signed into law. The worst offender, the Department of Agriculture, has five programs that have been noncompliant with IPERA for three consecutive years. Four of those programs have been noncompliant for five consecutive years.
Restore Accountability has routinely reported on the federal government’s improper payments. Not because we are partial to certain programs or agencies, but because they are massive and correctable waste that adds to our $20 trillion national debt and will have to be repaid with interest by younger generations.
While Congress has identified improper payments as an area that must be addressed, the incident of Darryl Wright shows just how far the federal government has to go in order to protect the tax dollars of the American people. A man that was able to collect a federal paycheck, disability check, and unemployment check should serve as a much needed wake up call for federal agencies and Congress to make sure our programs are in sync so our tax dollars do not go down the sink.