The federal government has paid as much as $35.9 million in farm subsidies to dead people, a watchdog agency claims.
The subsidies were part of the $20 billion a year effort to support farmers with crop insurance, conservation efforts and disaster assistance administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2008 to 2012.
Two of the department's agencies do "not have procedures in place consistent with federal internal control standards to prevent potentially improper subsidies on behalf of deceased individuals," the Government Accountability Office said in a 25-page report released Monday.
The report, entitled "USDA Needs to Do More to Prevent Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals," looked at three departments within the USDA, the Risk Management Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Services and the Farm Service Agency.
The GAO concluded that in the Risk Management Agency, which administers crop insurance programs, "$22 million in subsidies and allowances may have been provided on behalf of an estimated 3,434 program policyholders two or more years after death."
In reviewing the Natural Resources Conservation Services, which finances conservation efforts, the GAO estimated that $10.6 million was paid to deceased people.
The rolls of the Farm Service Agency, which helps supports farm incomes and provide disaster assistance, included thousands of deceased individuals who were paid $3.3 million in improper payments after their deaths, the GAO said. However, the Farm Service Agency has recovered about $1 million of those improper payments, the GAO reported.
The USDA challenged the GAO's findings.
Philip Sharp, director of USDA's operations review and analysis staff, wrote in a letter that the USDA does "not believe the representation that USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency have no procedures in place to identify deceased participants is accurate since the normal operating procedures in place provide opportunities to identify deceased participants."
In Sharp's letter, included as part of the GAO report filing, said the "potential scope of the remaining questionable payments to deceased individuals is more limited than reported by GAO." Sharp also details the USDA's systems already in place to prevent payments to the dead.