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Improper Payments: Programs Reporting Reductions Had Taken Corrective Actions That Shared Common Features

GAO-23-106585 Published: Jun 30, 2023. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2023.
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Fast Facts

In FY 2022, federal agencies made an estimated $247 billion in payment errors—payments that either should not have been made or that were made in the incorrect amount. But some agencies have made progress reducing the number of such errors in their programs.

This report—the second in a series of quarterly reports—examines how these agencies worked to reduce payment errors. Some agencies improved the accountability of senior leaders for their programs. Others used new technology to automate the payment process. We discuss what these efforts have in common and highlight key takeaways that other agencies could use to reduce their payment errors.

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What GAO Found

Agencies have reported reductions in estimated improper payment rates for several programs based on fiscal year 2017 compared to fiscal year 2022. GAO identified 19 programs across eight agencies with reported reductions, according to fiscal year 2022 reporting. The reduction in estimated improper payment rates ranged from 0.1 to 85.6 net percentage points. Of the five programs with the largest reported reductions, four were Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs. The reported improper payment estimates for the 19 programs declined from a total of approximately $55.0 billion for fiscal year 2017 to $44.5 billion for fiscal year 2022.

Programs with Reductions in Estimated Improper Payment Rates Reported, FY 2017 and FY 2022



FY 2017 ratea (percentage)

FY 2022 rate (percentage)

Change in rate (net percentage points)

Corporation for National and Community Service

AmeriCorps State and National




Department of Agriculture

Food and Nutrition Service's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Total Program




Department of Defense

Department of Defense Travel Pay




Department of Health and Human Services

Administration for Children and Families Child Care and Development Fund




Department of Health and Human Services

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare Fee-for-Serviceb




Department of Health and Human Services

CMS Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit (Part D)




Department of Veterans Affairs

Beneficiary Travelb




Department of Veterans Affairs

Communications, Utilities, and Other Rentb




Department of Veterans Affairs

Medical Care Contracts and Agreementsb




Department of Veterans Affairs

Purchased Long Term Services and Supportsb




Department of Veterans Affairs

Supplies and Materialsb




Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Community Careb




Federal Communications Commission

Universal Service Fund-Lifelineb




Federal Communications Commission

Universal Service Fund-Schools & Libraries




Small Business Administration

7(a) Guarantee Approvals




Small Business Administration

7(a) Guarantee Purchases




Small Business Administration

Disaster Loan Disbursementsb




Social Security Administration

Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance




Social Security Administration

Supplemental Security Income




Legend: FY = fiscal year

Source: GAO analysis of Office of Management and Budget data. | GAO-23-106585

Notes: Changes in rates may be attributable to a number of different causes, including agency corrective actions, policy changes, and the uncertainty of the estimation processes. Listed changes in rates may not equal the differences between the listed FY 2017 and FY 2022 rates due to rounding.

aThe estimated improper payment rate is the estimated amount of improper payments divided by the amount in program outlays for a given program in a given fiscal year.

bThe confidence intervals for this program's reported FY 2017 and FY 2022 estimates did not overlap, which serves as evidence that the reported reduction in estimated improper payment rate was likely not due to variability arising from the estimation process.

Office of Management and Budget guidance directs agencies to analyze the root causes of improper payments and implement corrective actions to reduce them. Agencies attributed reductions in estimated improper payment rates to program-specific corrective actions as well as broader reduction efforts. These actions and efforts fell into two categories. The first category—establishing accountability and facilitating internal collaboration—included examples such as the VA Veterans Health Administration's establishment of program-level senior accountable officials and a payment integrity team. The second category—providing technology, tools, and training targeted to root causes—included examples such as Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) launch of the National Verifier system, which uses a combination of automated and manual processes to verify Lifeline program eligibility.

Agencies also described key takeaways or lessons learned as a result of their reduction efforts. For example, VA described the importance of effective management and of ensuring that dedicated personnel provide oversight within both the VA Chief Financial Officer's (CFO) and Veterans Health Administration CFO's offices. The Corporation for National and Community Service noted the importance of targeted agency-wide actions and the need for strong communication. Department of Defense officials described the importance of training, collaboration, communication, and feedback. FCC cited the importance of analyzing root causes on a quarterly basis. The Small Business Administration described the importance of regular meetings with program offices to discuss common issues and solutions. These examples underscore the importance of effective corrective actions to address root causes of improper payments.

Why GAO Did This Study

Improper payments—payments that should not have been made or that were made in incorrect amounts—are a long-standing significant problem in the federal government. Since fiscal year 2003, cumulative executive agency improper payment estimates have totaled almost $2.4 trillion, including $247 billion for fiscal year 2022.

House Report 117-389, which accompanied the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2023, includes a provision for GAO to provide quarterly reports on its ongoing oversight of improper payments.

This report examines programs with reported reductions in estimated improper payment rates since fiscal year 2017. This report includes information about actions that agencies credit with helping them to achieve the reductions, common features of these actions, and the key takeaways or lessons learned that were identified by the agencies.

GAO analyzed agencies' improper payment estimates reported on, as well as information reported in agency financial reports, and agency responses.

For more information, contact M. Hannah Padilla at (202) 512-5683 or

Full Report

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Agency evaluationsBeneficiariesChief financial officersCompliance oversightImproper paymentsInternal controlsLessons learnedPayment errorsVeterans affairsMedicare