Lawmakers pressed Social Security Administration officials on Thursday over a massive fraud scandal involving New York City cops and firefighters who allegedly bilked the government out of millions by falsely claiming disability from working at Ground Zero after 9/11.
"While I recognize there will always be bad apples, what's going on today is very different," said Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chairman of the House's Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees the agency. "This is a program plagued by fraud."
Johnson convened the hearing following the stunning arrests last week of more than 100 in New York from vaunted public safety agencies known in the city as the "Finest" and the "Bravest," who stand accused of filing phony disability claims.
Many allegedly faked mental disabilities they claimed were as a result of the al Qaeda attacks that reduced the World Trade Center into a smoldering wasteland of rubble called "The Pile," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has charged.
Johnson demanded accountability from the acting chief of the Social Security Administration, Carolyn Colvin and agency Inspector General Patrick O'Carroll.
"Can we expect more cases like this, yes or no?" he pressed.
"Probably," replied O'Carroll, drumming his thumbs anxiously. "If you want a yes -- yes, we have other investigations of that magnitude."
But few are more outrageous than the latest scandal, given the battle New York lawmakers waged for years to win federal aid for those who worked atop The Pile. Workers labored for months to retrieve remains of hundreds who perished in the twin towers on 9/11 and were sickened by toxic air that the feds had said was safe to breathe without respirator masks.
Colvin defended the Social Security Administration's record, which included a major fraud cases in Puerto Rico and in West Virginia, Johnson said.
"Are you holding anybody in your agency accountable?" Johnson asked.
Colvin looked around at aides and tried to demur by saying cases are still open, but Johnson demanded an answer.
"We're not making any changes in the administration at all. There is no suggestion, in my understanding, that we need to do that at this time," Colvin insisted.
The alleged New York scam was lucrative for the perpetrators and is estimated to have cost the Social security pension fund at least $22 million so far, with more arrests to come, according to testimony from Edward Ryan, New York SSA IG Special Agent in Charge.
"When we executed search warrants we found large amounts of cash in safes……and gold bars" Ryan testified.