WASHINGTON, D.C. (WBTV) - Members of North Carolina's congressional delegation are reacting to an audit released in March that found millions of tax dollars being wasted on payments to people who are dead.
The Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration found the agency had poor internal controls that led to staff failing to stop payments to beneficiaries even after the agency was notified of their death.
The audit estimated the Social Security Administration paid out roughly $17 million to 740 dead people.
"This is totally unacceptable and indefensible," Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-9th) said in response to the audit's findings. "This is, frankly, the problem inside a large, enormous, bloated bureaucracy."
Auditors sampled 59 beneficiaries. Of that sample, all but one of the beneficiaries had died or were likely dead, according to the audit findings.
"SSA terminated benefits for 6 of these beneficiaries but left the remaining 52 in a suspended payment status," auditors wrote. "When benefits are suspended instead of terminated, SSA cannot reclaim payments through the reclamation process."
Agency employees failed to terminate the benefits despite the fact that employees had received information confirming the death of most of the beneficiaries.
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said the audit's findings fall short of taxpayers' demands.
"I find it seriously disturbing that the Social Security Administration cannot account for these payments," Burr said in a statement to On Your Side Investigates. "This type of waste is intolerable, and I will keep asking hard questions of our agencies."
Pittenger said further oversight was needed from Congress and called on government action to hold agency employees accountable.
"In real business, in real life, people get fired for non-performance of jobs," he said. "I don't know about the current administration and how they handle things but that's how I handle things."
The audit included a number of recommendations on how the agency could avoid similar mistakes in the future. Among the suggested action items is using third-party information to verify beneficiaries' deaths and working with financial institutions.
Comments from the Social Security Administration included with the audit's findings agreed with the recommendations.