PaymentAccuracy.gov

An Official Website of the United States Government

FAQ

Answers

Q. What is an improper payment?

A. “Improper payments” occur when either:

  • federal funds go to the wrong recipient,
  • the recipient receives the incorrect amount of funds (either an underpayment or overpayment),
  • documentation is not available to support a payment, or
  • the recipient uses federal funds in an improper manner.

The term “improper payment” is defined in the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-204) and the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-123, Appendix C (OMB M-11-16).

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Q. How does a federal agency measure its improper payments?

A. For all federal programs identified as risk-susceptible, the responsible federal agencies obtain a statistically valid estimate of the annual amount of improper payments in those programs. OMB Guidance (Circular A-123 Appendix C) PDF Document describes acceptable statistical sampling methodology.

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Q. Why does the federal government make improper payments?

A. Improper payments can happen for a number of reasons. By identifying the root causes of improper payments, agencies can strengthen financial management controls so that they can better detect and prevent improper payments, without compromising program access for beneficiaries and recipients entitled to payment.

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Q. What are federal agencies doing to prevent and recover improper payments?

A. The key to implementing effective financial management controls to prevent and identify improper payments is to better measure the extent of the problem and understand why improper payments occur. A summary view of the high-error programs is available on this site which includes links to each program's detail page for more information. For other programs that measure improper payments, but are not considered high-error, corrective action plans to prevent improper payments can be found in their annual Performance and Accountability Reports or Agency Financial Report /Annual Performance Report, which are available on the agency’s website or the CFO Council’s site.

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Q. What is the purpose of this website?

A. As required by Executive Order 13520 dated November 20, 2009, Reducing Improper Payments, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice and Office of Management and Budget, established this website to create a centralized location to publish information about improper payments made to individuals, organizations, and contractors. This website also provides a centralized place where the public can report suspected incidents of fraud, waste, and abuse.

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Q. What information is included in this website?

A. This website includes current and historical information about improper payments made under federal programs that have been determined to be susceptible to significant improper payments based on assessments of all government programs. As required by Executive Order 13520, agencies with high-error programs provide the following information for the website:

  • The name(s) of the accountable official(s) responsible for meeting the targets for reducing and recovering improper payments, as established by his or her federal agency or program;
  • Rates and amounts of improper payments, including causes of improper payments;
  • Targets for reducing improper payments.

Some of the data for these requirements are not immediately available, but are anticipated for publication in the future.

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Q. What is the source of the information contained on the website?

A. The Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010 and OMB implementing guidance require federal agencies to report information related to improper payments. The information included on this website has been reported by agencies to the Office of Management and Budget.

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Q. What is a fiscal year? What is a fiscal reporting year?

A. The federal government uses a defined 12-month period for its own accounting purposes which is known as a financial or fiscal year (FY). The federal fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following calendar year. While most of the data reported on this site is measured and reported by fiscal year, a few programs may collect data by calendar year or other year-long period, depending on the program’s requirements or data availability. In these cases, we have used the term fiscal reporting year to best describe the time period in which the most current information was reported. For more detail by program, refer to the annual Performance and Accountability Reports or Agency Financial Report /Annual Performance Report, which are available on the agency’s website or the CFO Council’s site.

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Q. Can I download data?

A.Improper payments data can be downloaded from the following website:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/financial/improper_payment_dataset/

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Q. I can't find a specific program or agency? Is their data available?

A. Agencies with programs susceptible to significant improper payments are required to report information about improper payments. Past government-wide reports are available at the Office of Management and Budget website. In addition, each agency reports improper payments in their annual Performance and Accountability Report or Agency Financial Report.

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Q. What is a federal program deemed susceptible to significant improper payments?

A.Generally, a program is deemed susceptible to significant improper payments if the program has improper payments greater than $10 million and over 2.5 percent of all payments made under that program, or if the program has more than $100 million in estimated improper payments. The criteria for determining when a program is susceptible to significant improper payments are found in the OMB Guidance (Circular A-123 Appendix C) PDF Document.

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Q. What is a federal high-error program?

A. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designates a program as “high-error” based on improper payment information in agencies’ annual Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) and Agency Financial Report (AFR). The criteria for determining high-error programs are found in the OMB Guidance (Circular A-123 Appendix C) PDF Document. In the President's 2009 Executive Order on Reducing Improper Payments and in OMB guidance, "high-error" programs are usually referred to as "high-priority" programs.

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Q. What is an Accountable Official?

A. Executive Order 13520 requires agencies operating high-error programs to designate an official who holds an existing Senate-confirmed position to be accountable for meeting targets for reducing improper payments associated with each high-error program, and for overseeing implementation of program integrity efforts. OMB Guidance (Circular A-123 Appendix C) PDF Document provides additional information about who may serve as an accountable official and the accountable official’s roles and responsibilities.

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Q. What is an improper payment rate?

A. The improper payment rates of programs susceptible to significant improper payments are reported on this website by agency and by fiscal year. The rate is calculated by dividing the improper payment dollars by the total outlays made by a program during the measurement year.

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Q. What is an improper payment target?

A. Programs susceptible to improper payments develop annual reduction goals for the program’s payment error rates. In addition, Executive Order 13520 requires agencies operating high-error programs to establish semi-annual (or more frequent) measurements as well as performance/reduction targets for reducing improper payments. OMB Guidance (Circular A-123 Appendix C) PDF Document provides additional information about agency requirements for establishing supplemental measurements and targets related to improper payments.

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Q. What are outlays?

A. Outlays occur when the government pays its obligations, whether with cash, check or electronic funds transfer. The Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-11 describes “outlay” as a payment to liquidate an obligation, other than the repayment of debt principal. Outlays generally are equal to cash disbursements but also are recorded for cash-equivalent transactions, such as Federal employee salaries and debt instruments. Outlays are the measure of Government spending.

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Q. How does someone report suspected incidents of waste, fraud, and abuse related to improper payments?

A. This website also provides information on where the public can report suspected incidents of fraud, waste, and abuse by an entity receiving federal funds that have led or may lead to improper payments by the federal government.

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Q. What is “program access” and how is it measured?

A. The purpose of Executive Order 13520 is to reduce improper payments while continuing to ensure that federal programs serve their intended beneficiaries. Government efforts to reduce improper payments should not deter eligible beneficiaries from seeking and receiving benefits. “Access measures” are developed by programs to assess items like the rate of participation by eligible beneficiaries, rate of benefits claimed by eligible beneficiaries, availability of program providers, whether eligible individuals are being improperly prevented from accessing program benefits, the ease or difficulty of accessing benefits, or whether eligible beneficiaries who are receiving benefits as a result of agency efforts to reduce errors. Additional information can be found in the OMB Guidance (Circular A-123 Appendix C) PDF Document.

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Q. What is Partner4Solutions?

A. Partner4Solutions.gov provides an opportunity for the public to submit ideas about innovative approaches to reduce improper payments, improve administrative efficiency and service delivery, while also reducing access barriers and protecting beneficiaries of important government programs.

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Q. What agencies measured and reported improper payments in 2013?

A. In fiscal year 2013, there were 18 agencies that measured and reported improper payments, representing a total of 85 programs susceptible to significant improper payments:

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Q.What are supplemental measures and why were they created?

A. Under the Executive Order 13520 Reducing Improper Payments, agencies with high-error programs are required to establish semi-annual or more frequent measurements for reducing improper payments. The supplemental measures are intended to provide information on high-risk areas and report on root causes of errors that agencies can resolve through corrective actions.

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Q.How often are supplemental measures updated?

A. Supplemental measures are developed to tackle the specific challenges of each program and therefore vary in the frequency that the data are collected and reviewed. Most supplemental measures will be reported either quarterly or semiannually. Refer to the high-error program pages for specifics on each measure.

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Q. Why aren’t some supplemental measures available now?

A. While agencies were tasked to develop supplemental measures in spring of 2010, certain programs need time to set up their data collection and analysis processes for the measures before they can be reported. In cases where supplemental measures are not available, the programs have indicated the fiscal reporting year in which they anticipate the measures will be available for public reporting.

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Q.How is PaymentAccuracy.gov different from USASpending.gov or Recovery.gov?

A. While USASpending.gov and Recovery.gov show the public where their money is being spent - by which programs or activities - PaymentAccuracy.gov reports how efficiently and effectively federal payments are being made by agencies and state partners. In other words, is the government paying the right person, at the right time, for the right amount? PaymentAccuracy.gov leverages the new USASpending cloud-based platform, which enables integration with other government spending data and provides the flexibility for future growth and expansion.

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Q.What is a payment recapture audit (a.k.a recovery audit)?

A. A payment recapture audit is a review and analysis of the agency's books, supporting documents, and other available information supporting its payments. This review is specifically designed to identify overpayments to contractors that are due to payment errors. It is not an audit in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a control activity designed to assure the integrity of contract payments, and, as such, is a management function and responsibility.

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Q.What is the Administration doing to reduce improper payments?

A. The Administration continues to aggressively attack the estimated billions of dollars in improper payments and is working with federal and state partners, Congress, and other stakeholders, to reduce the government-wide error rate and amount of errors without negatively impacting citizen access to needed programs. To accomplish that goal, the President has announced several initiatives to prevent, reduce, and recapture improper payments. Learn more about these initiatives.

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Q.What are federal agencies doing?

A. Analysis shows that once an agency measures and reports program errors, it is able to implement corrective actions to reduce errors in subsequent years. The government can achieve the greatest return on investment for the taxpayer by focusing efforts on reducing improper payments in the highest risk programs, otherwise known as “high-error programs.” In pursuing reforms, the government must balance its responsibilities for reducing improper payments with the goal of providing fast and accurate payments to millions of beneficiaries. Also, by strengthening financial management controls so that agencies can better detect and prevent improper payments, the government can better ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently.

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Q.What can the American public do to help?

A. Taxpayers are able to report suspected incidents of fraud, waste, and abuse that can lead to finding and recovering improper payments, and implementing corrective actions to prevent future improper payments. Partner4Solutions.gov also provides an opportunity for the public to submit ideas about innovative approaches to reduce improper payments, to improve administrative efficiency and service delivery, while also reducing access barriers and protecting beneficiaries of important government programs.

Federal agencies are committed to providing high-quality improper payments data to the public. With your help we can do better. Use the Contact Us link at the top of this page to notify us of potential issues with the website — including data, website and document links, or other information. Also visit our Data Quality page for more information.

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