There was one exception to the deficit reduction commission’s call this month for across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending. The panel did not call for limits on so-called “program integrity efforts.”
And for good reason. These are programs designed to reduce mistaken and improper government payments to people and companies, a $125 billion problem in 2010. At a time of fiscal belt-tightening, they offer a way to reduce spending without cutting vital services more in demand now than ever.
One promising such initiative is the new Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation, charged with cultivating creative approaches to a problem that has long vexed Washington. The $37.5 million, three-year fund establishes pilot programs to test new ideas for reducing improper payments and improving the delivery of services in federal programs.
Here’s how it works. Government workers and members of the public submit suggestions for improving payment accuracy through an online tool. After vetting by the relevant federal agency, the best ideas are passed on to a “collaborative forum” of nonfederal representatives, made up of state and local financial managers, program managers, technology experts, and beneficiary advocates. That forum assesses the costs, benefits, risks, and service implications of each idea and develops the most promising into concept proposals. Finally, the Office of Management and Budget, which administers the fund, works with a group of senior agency officials to decide which proposals to fund as state and local pilots.
The program flips the traditional reform model on its head by soliciting ideas from the very government workers who make the payments. Many of the programs most prone to payment mistakes—Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance—are either partially or fully administered by state and local governments, and many others rely on services from nongovernmental community groups. Without input from these key stakeholders, the federal government’s ability to curb improper payments is limited.
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