Social Security Administration administrator Michael Astrue says the problem is not as wide-spread as the GAO report claims. (Staff file photo)
Nearly 1,500 federal employees may have improperly received disability benefits between 2006 and 2008 even though they were able to return to work, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.
GAO said that the employees received about $1.7 million each month in improper disability payments, and some of those employees may have committed fraud by not telling the Social Security Administration they were able to work again. The report said that one Transportation Security Administration screener — who lives in a $1.8 million home in California — was improperly paid about $108,000 in fraudulent disability benefits.
In the report, GAO said SSA's automated system that calculates changes in beneficiaries' monthly disability payments should be modified to identify people who should lose their benefits because they return to work.
SSA said it would study its automated system to see if that change is possible. But SSA disputed GAO's conclusion that it is missing large numbers of fraud cases.
"Our [fraud detection] methods are working," SSA Administrator Michael Astrue wrote in a May 28 letter. "Prior to the report's issuance, we had already detected overpayments for half of the 20 cases handpicked for this review. Our existing processes identified these cases, and we had already computed overpayment amounts. We would have identified the remaining cases where IRS reported earnings for those beneficiaries through subsequent enforcement activities."
GAO compared payroll records from the Treasury and Defense departments and the U.S. Postal Service with SSA's disability files to find the possible improper payments.