Department of Commerce
Improper Payments Website

Background

The Improper Payments Information Act (IPIA) of 2002, as amended by the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) of 2010 and the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act of 2012, requires agencies to periodically review all programs and activities and identify those that may be susceptible to significant improper payments, take multiple actions when programs and activities are identified as susceptible to significant improper payments, and annually report information on their improper payments monitoring and minimization efforts. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-123, Management’s Responsibility for Internal Control, Appendix C, Requirements for Effective Measurement and Remediation of Improper Payments, provides guidance to agencies to comply with IPIA, as amended, and for agency improper payments efforts. An improper payment is any payment that should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount under statutory, contractual, administrative, or other legally applicable requirements. The Department has not identified any programs or activities susceptible to significant improper payments nor any significant problems with improper payments.

On January 29, 2013, the President signed into law the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act (Act), which provides a total of $50.5 billion in aid for Hurricane Sandy disaster victims and their communities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received $326 million of funds under the Act for Hurricane Sandy recovery and other disaster-related activities. Pursuant to OMB Memorandum M-13-07, Accountability for Funds Provided by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, the Department in March 2013 submitted its final plan for accountability, internal controls, and other requirements for funds provided to NOAA by the Act. The Act sets forth that programs and activities receiving funds under the Act shall be deemed to be susceptible to significant improper payments for the purposes of requirements under IPIA of 2002, as amended, and are required to calculate and report an improper payments estimate for the FY 2014 reporting period, to the extent possible. The Department submitted to OMB in June 2014 a sampling methodology plan for FY 2013 disbursements made under the Act by NOAA.  In September 2014, testing of FY 2013 disbursements was performed by an independent contractor, in order to yield a statistically valid improper payments estimate as required by OMB Circular A-123, Appendix C .  The independent contractor determined that all sample items tested for improper payments were found to be properly disbursed, and as a result, determined that the estimated amount improperly disbursed is zero.

The Department recognizes the importance of maintaining adequate internal controls to ensure proper payments, and the Department’s commitment to continuous improvement in the overall disbursement management process remains very strong. Each of the Department’s payment offices has implemented procedures to detect and prevent improper payments. For FY 2015 and beyond, the Department will continue its efforts to ensure the integrity of its disbursements.

Executive Order 13520, Reducing Improper Payments, was issued on November 20, 2009, to help federal agencies reduce and prevent improper payments through increased transparency and improved agency accountability. The Executive Order requires that, along with other requirements, federal agencies with high-priority or risk-susceptible programs (for purposes of improper payments) name accountable officers for improper payments; monitor any such programs; establish goals for reducing improper payments; and report high-dollar improper payments. The Department established, as required, a prominently displayed link on its home page to internet-based resources on addressing improper payments, and also provides a web link to Treasury’s improper payments web site (see PaymentAccuracy.gov website information below).

OMB issued implementation guidance for the Executive Order by updating OMB Circular A-123, Appendix C, Part III, Requirements for Implementing Executive Order 13520: Reducing Improper Payments. Agencies should track improper payments identified and recovered through various agency endeavors. As appropriate, agencies should identify improper payments identified and recovered through:

  1. Statistical samples under IPIA (i.e., improper payments identified in the sample to calculate a program’s annual error measurement);
  2. Agency post-payment reviews (i.e., normal agency post-payment reviews to determine the accuracy of payments or other activities designed to identify improper payments);
  3. Payment recapture audits;
  4. Inspector General reviews (i.e., investigations into improper payments or fraud);
  5. Single Audit reports (i.e., results from Single Audit reviews);
  6. Self-reported overpayments (i.e., a recipient notifies an agency that their payment was incorrect, and the recipient returns the overpayment); and
  7. Reports from the public (i.e., reports of improper payments submitted through online websites, telephone hotlines or other methods).

Department of Commerce Improper Payments Monitoring/Minimization Efforts

Review of Internal Controls over Disbursement Processes:

The Department annually conducts an assessment of the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting, in compliance with OMB Circular A-123. Furthermore, every three years, the assessment includes a review of internal controls over disbursement processes, including Department-wide sample testing of disbursements for improper payments and for appropriate internal control attributes. The most recent review performed indicated that internal controls over disbursement processes were sound.

Improper Payments Risk Assessments:

Each of the Department’s bureaus/reporting entities periodically completes or updates, over a one to three-year period (depending on the size of the entity), improper payments risk assessments covering all of its programs/activities as required by OMB Circular A-123, Appendix C. These improper payments risk assessments of the entity’s programs/activities also include assessments of the control, procurement, and grants management environments. The improper payments risk assessments performed thus far revealed no program or activity susceptible to significant improper payments. 

The results of Departmental assessments revealed no risk-susceptible programs/activities, and demonstrated that, overall, the Department has strong internal controls over disbursement processes and the risk of significant improper payments is low.

 Quarterly Improper Payments Reporting:

The Department has not identified any significant problems with improper payments; however, the Department recognizes the importance of maintaining adequate internal controls to ensure proper payments, and its commitment to continuous improvement in disbursement management processes remains very strong. The Department’s CFO has responsibility for establishing policies and procedures for assessing Departmental and program risks of improper payments, taking actions to reduce improper payments, and reporting the results of the actions to Departmental management for oversight and other actions as deemed appropriate. The CFO has designated the Deputy CFO to oversee initiatives related to reducing improper payments within the Department, and to work closely with the bureau CFOs in this area.

In FY 2014, the Department continued its reporting procedures that required quarterly reporting to the Department by its bureaus on any improper payments, identifying the nature and magnitude of any improper payments along with any necessary control enhancements to prevent further occurrences of the types of improper payments identified. The Department’s analysis of the data collected from the bureaus shows that Department-wide improper payments were at or below one-tenth of one percent in FY 2014 and FY 2013. The bureau CFOs are accountable for internal controls over improper payments, and for monitoring and minimizing improper payments.

For FY 2015 and beyond, the Department will continue its efforts to ensure the integrity of its disbursements.

 Payment Recapture Audits:

In conformity with IPIA, as amended, the Department has been performing, since 2005, annual payment recapture audits of closed contracts/obligations for many of the Department’s bureaus/reporting entities, on a rotational basis. In recent years, these payment recapture audits have been performed by an independent contractor; however, in the past, these payment recapture audits have also been conducted by the Department’s Office of Financial Management. Effective FY 2012, the scope of payment recapture audits of contracts/obligations were expanded to additionally include contracts/obligations for which the period of performance ended and last payment was made, but for which the closeout process has not yet been completed. Annual payment recapture auditing is additionally performed by an independent contractor, effective 2011, for Department-wide grants and other cooperative agreements (i.e., financial assistance).

Per OMB Circular A-123, Appendix C, intragovernmental transactions are not required to be reviewed. An October 2013 update to OMB Circular A-123, Appendix C, expanded the definition of improper payments to include payments to employees.  Future payment recapture audits, accordingly, will include payments to employees as appropriate.
For payment recapture audits, the auditor analyzes the reasons why any payment errors occurred, and develops, presents, and documents any recommendations for cost-effective controls to prevent improper payments in the future and/or to enhance the applicable bureau processes.

 Do Not Pay Initiative: 

The Department’s payment offices performs weekly or daily (Census Bureau) pre-payment eligibility reviews to the following Do Not Pay portal databases for the Department’s domestic, non-classified, non-employee-related, non-intragovernmental disbursements: (a) Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF); (b) the U.S. General Services Administration’s System for Award Management (SAM) Exclusion Records; and (c) SAM Entity Registration Records (excluding Census Bureau).

The pre-payment checking performed by the Department excludes pre-payment eligibility reviews of grantees under Treasury’s Automated Standard Application for Payments (ASAP), as Treasury performs continuous monitoring to the Do Not Pay portal of ASAP grantees. Bureau payment and acquisition offices, as appropriate, follow up on vendors initially matched to the Do Not Pay portal databases checked to, and perform further research as necessary to follow through and resolve the issues identified by the Do Not Pay portal matches. In most cases, the initial matches are subsequently determined by the Department to be false matches. Other Departmental offices are also consulted as appropriate.

Furthermore, the Department’s payment offices receive from Treasury monthly Do Not Pay portal reports listing any match results of payments made to the following databases: (a) DMF; and (b) SAM Exclusion Records. Payment offices research and follow up on matches, as appropriate, and submit to Treasury monthly Adjudication Reports summarizing the results of their efforts.

Post-Payment Reviews and Other Procedures Performed:

The Department has extensive improper payments monitoring and minimization efforts in place beyond payment recapture audits, including the identification of improper payments through bureau post-payment reviews, the Department’s Office of Inspector General audits or reviews, Single Audit Act audits of grants/cooperative agreements, other grants/cooperative agreements audits, contract closeout reviews, grants/cooperative agreements closeout reviews, other audits or reviews, and Department-wide sample testing of disbursements.

The Department has ensured that internal controls, manual as well as financial systems, relating to payments are in place throughout the Department, and has reviewed all financial statement audit findings/comments and results of any other payment reviews for indications of breaches of disbursement controls. None of these audit findings/comments or reviews have uncovered any significant problems with improper payments or the internal controls that surround disbursements.

Additional information on the Department’s improper payments efforts may be found in the Department’s FY 2014 Agency Financial Report, Other Information, Improper Payments Information Act (IPIA) of 2002, As Amended, Reporting Details, at the following web link:
http://www.osec.doc.gov/ofm/OFM_Publications.html.

Office of Inspector General Improper Payments Efforts

The Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) keeps the Department accountable for its use of federal funds by conducting audits, evaluations, and investigations of the Department’s programs and activities. The OIG’s Office of Audit and Evaluation supervises and conducts independent and objective audits and other reviews of the Department’s programs and activities to ensure they operate economically, efficiently, and effectively. The OIG’s Office of Investigations investigates alleged or suspected fraud, waste, abuse, and misconduct by Departmental employees, contractors, recipients of financial assistance, and others involved in the Department's programs and operations.

For more information about the OIG’s reports and activities, the following web link is provided: http://www.oig.doc.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

Report Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Whistleblower Reprisal:
If you know of fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement in Department of Commerce programs and operations, report it to the OIG Hotline. This includes alleged/suspected wrongdoing by Department of Commerce employees, contractors, grantees, recipients of financial assistance, and others involved in the Department's programs and operations; and if you suspect that you have been retaliated against for whistleblowing. The OIG’s Report Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Whistleblower Reprisal website is located at the following web link: http://www.oig.doc.gov/Pages/Hotline.aspx.

PaymentAccuracy.gov Website

Executive Order 13520, Reducing Improper Payments, established a requirement for a central website that will contain current and historical improper payments information.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice and OMB, established the PaymentAccuracy.gov web site to create a centralized location to publish information about improper payments made to individuals, organizations, and contractors. This web site also provides a centralized place where suspected incidents of fraud, waste, and abuse can be reported, and contains information about 1) current and historical rates and amounts of improper payments; 2) why improper payments occur; and 3) what agencies are doing to reduce and recapture improper payments.  The website also contains extensive information, guidance, and links to other useful resources for addressing improper payments.

 

 

Office of Financial Management
U.S. Department of Commerce

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Page last updated November 20, 2014