The Challenge of Data Sharing: Results of a GAO- Sponsored Symposium on Benefit and Loan Programs
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON DC
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Many federal benefit and loan programs have common data needs, such as the need for accurate information on the income and assets of applicants and recipients. Such information can be subject to error or abuse when applicants and recipients are the sole source of it. Past work has shown, for example, that some individuals misrepresent their financial condition by under- or overstating their income and assets when applying for programs or during subsequent determinations of eligibility. As a result, agencies can make payments or loan funds to individuals who are not entitled to them, or over- or underpay individuals who are entitled. These inaccuracies can be expensive-costing the government billions of dollars each year. Data sharing across government agencies has been an important and successful tool for identifying improper payments. The Social Security Administration SSA, for example, identifies improper payments to Supplemental Security Income SSI recipients in part by obtaining wage data from state agencies to verify self-reported earnings. Similarly, some state human services departments use data from various federal and state agencies to verify the income and assets of their applicants and recipients. Because improper payments are a continuing problem among benefit and loan programs, the General Accounting Office GAO was asked to review whether expanded and improved data sharing among these programs could contribute to more accurate initial and continuing eligibility decisions. In response, GAO conducted two projects. The first was a study that focused primarily on the data-sharing efforts of three programs as case examples. The second project, designed to provide a broader, governmentwide perspective, involved presenting a 2-day symposium on data sharing among benefit and loan programs.
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