Watchdog report finds millions in gov't payments to dead farmers

The Agriculture Department has paid millions of dollars to dead farmers over the last several years, according to an audit released Monday.

The Government Accountability Office estimated in a new report that agencies within the department may have paid more than $30 million to thousands of deceased recipients between 2008 and 2012. The findings come as Congress tries to pass a new farm bill, and could stir concerns among conservatives that the government's many subsidy programs are not being carefully managed.

The GAO found that at two agencies that play a big role in aid for farmers, until changes are made "these agencies cannot know if they are providing payments to, or subsidies on behalf of, deceased individuals."

The report found that at the Risk Management Agency, which deals with crop insurance, a review of payments showed $22 million may have gone to more than 3,400 individuals "two or more years after death."

The GAO report faulted the agency for not using a Social Security Administration master list to verify whether policyholders have died. It said some of the payments could have been "proper" but the agency cannot be sure.

The report also looked at payments from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and found $10.6 million went to 1,103 "deceased individuals one year or more after their death."

The report praised another agency -- the Farm Service Agency, which helps with disaster assistance and other programs -- for aggressively checking payment records against death records. The report said the FSA has, by doing this, found it made $3.3 million in "improper payments" to thousands of dead people, and has so far recovered $1 million of that.

The GAO recommended that all agencies do more to prevent improper payments to and on behalf of dead people.

According to the report, the USDA claimed the GAO "inaccurately represented" the NRCS and RMA as having "no procedures" in place to flag dead recipients. "USDA stated that it believes that agencies' normal operating procedures provide opportunities to identify deceased participants," the report said.

The GAO said these agencies still need a better process in place.