Senators seek to reduce 'improper' government payments

The bill, S. 1409, would impose three improvements to last year's law. It would first require agencies to more accurately estimate improper payments, a problem that the Department of Defense has had in particular. Carper noted Friday that DOD estimated only $1 billion in improper payments, which many said appeared to be due to poor estimates.

It would also require the creation of a "do not pay" list, an attempt to ensure payments do not find their way to disqualified contractors. And it would require agencies to establish "recovery audit contractor" programs aimed at forcing agencies to more aggressively seek improper payments and document correct payments.

Co-sponsor Susan Collins (R-Maine) said these steps are needed to improve last year's law.

"The approach we introduce today will help expose potential improper payments earlier and require agencies to check data bases so they are not paying dead people or those who are in jail," she said. "It is unbelievable that we would need to legislate such a requirement, but it is clearly necessary."

Co-sponsor Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also cited the occurrence of Social Security payments to the deceased, and co-sponsor Scott Brown (R-Mass.) said these sorts of payments are costing "tens of billions of dollars" each year. Carper noted that the Office of Management and Budget estimated nearly $125 billion in improper payments were made in 2010.