Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program:
Improvements Needed to Strengthen Reporting on 9/11-Related Claims
GAO-19-521R: Published: Jul 25, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 2019.
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program pays benefits to public safety officers or their families if the officers are permanently disabled or die in the line of duty. A second program may also pay benefits if the injury or death is related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When benefits are payable from both programs, the Bureau of Justice Assistance generally adjusts the payments accordingly. Information on these payments is available to the public in the Bureau’s reports. However, the reports sometimes have errors introduced when staff compile the data.
We recommended better quality checks to ensure the accuracy of this information.
What GAO Found
Based on GAO's review, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) was generally in compliance with the requirement to apply offsets for claimants dually eligible for benefits from both the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) from 2013-2018. However, GAO's analysis of 91 dually eligible claims revealed errors in two of them. One claimant was overpaid, and PSOB officials said the error occurred because this claim was processed after the effective date of the law that required offsets, but before VCF and PSOB had an agreement in place regarding how they would coordinate processing offsets. One claimant was underpaid, and PSOB officials acknowledged this and said they intend to work with VCF officials to ensure the claimant receives the compensation they were eligible for.
GAO's analysis also found some errors in the information BJA publicly reported in its 180-day reports. For example, two claims were missing from the total number of final determinations on PSOB claims related to 9/11. BJA also misreported VCF final compensation amounts for 5 claimants. The compensation amounts were listed alongside incorrect claim identification numbers in the 180-day reports. The 180-day reports are reviewed by multiple people to help ensure their accuracy, according to BJA officials; however, these reports are prepared by manually transcribing data from electronic sources, which increases the risk of errors. BJA has no imminent plans to automate production of these reports. As long as these reports are produced manually without more effective quality checks, errors like those described above may continue to occur. In addition, without adequate quality control measures to verify the accuracy of claims data, BJA's 180-day reports may fail to provide policymakers the assurance that PSOB claimants with 9/11-related claims are receiving the correct, offset benefit amounts.
Why GAO Did This Study
Public safety officers—law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians, among others—who die or become totally and permanently disabled due to a line-of-duty injury are eligible for benefits from the PSOB program. Since 2013, BJA, which administers the PSOB program, has approved more than 1,700 death and disability claims and provided more than $300 million to eligible officers and their families. Public safety officers who were physically injured or died as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 (9/11), or the debris removal afterward may also be eligible for VCF compensation. Federal law requires benefits under these programs to be offset—reducing one benefit by the amount of the other—when claimants are eligible for both programs. In addition, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 requires DOJ to issue public reports every 180 days on PSOB claims. The Act also includes a provision for GAO to conduct a study on BJA’s compliance with the requirement to offset PSOB benefits by the amount of VCF compensation paid, and to review BJA’s reporting on PSOB claims related to 9/11. This report examines the extent to which BJA is 1) in compliance with requirements to offset benefits for claims that are eligible for both the PSOB program and the VCF program, and 2) accurately reporting information on PSOB claims related to 9/11 in its public reports.
What GAO Recommends
The Attorney General should direct the Bureau of Justice Assistance to enhance quality checks to ensure the accuracy of information in its 180-day reports about Public Safety Officers' Benefits claims related to public safety officers affected by 9/11. DOJ concurred with the recommendation.
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Recommendation for Executive Action
Comments: The Bureau of Justice Assistance agreed with this recommendation. The agency said it will develop and implement quality checks to confirm the accuracy of information reported in the 180-day reports related to PSOB 9/11 claims. We will consider closing this recommendation when this effort is completed.
Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct the Bureau of Justice Assistance to enhance quality checks to ensure the accuracy of information in its 180-day reports about Public Safety Officers' Benefits claims related to public safety officers affected by 9/11. (Recommendation 1)
Agency Affected: Department of Justice