The inspector general’s report came as Congress prepares to return from a long break next week and resume talks over new agriculture legislation.
In July, the GOP-led House approved a farm bill that excluded nutrition assistance, apparently an attempt to deal with that form of aid separately from other types of USDA assistance. The move angered Democratic lawmakers, who accused their Republican counterparts of playing politics with important legislation.
The watchdog analysis, released Wednesday, focused on the USDA’s compliance with reporting requirements under an executive order President Obama issued in 2009 to reduce high-dollar overpayments.
The inspector general found that the USDA reported its figures late and with errors. “Without accurate and timely reporting, the effects of USDA’s actions or strategies to eliminate the errors causing high-dollar overpayments are not fully known,” the analysis said.
The Department of Agriculture reported 239 overpayments worth a combined $20.3 million during the 2012 fiscal year, compared to 143 payouts totaling $11.7 million during the previous cycle, according to the review.
Excess payments through the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation averaged excesses of $209,000 per payout. The next highest amount came from a wildland firefighting program that sent out overpayments of $58,000 apiece on average.
The inspector general said the USDA could decrease its overpayments through better control over bookkeeping and stricter adherence to reporting guidelines, including the deadlines for producing quarterly numbers.
“USDA can take further steps to improve transparency and agency accountability for identifying and eliminating the highest payment areas,” the report said.
The Agriculture Department said in its response that “agencies misinterpreted or deviated from the requirement of the Office of Management and Budget and the [Office of the Chief Financial Officer].” The agency said its CFO would issue a memo directing each department to certify that its reporting processes comply with the established standards.
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