In 2010, the federal government spent $125 billion—that's billion with a "b"!—on "improper payments." That's taxpayer money spent on fraud, error, checks cut to dead people, prisoners, crooks, scammers, and figments of our collective imagination who never existed at all. But don't worry. The Obama administration has made it a "priority" this year to weed out bad payments. And so, according to a blog post signed by Obama's top budget geek, Jacob Lew, the White House is instituting four new pilot programs it hopes will help "save money and significantly improve program integrity, service delivery and efficiency." Pilot programs! How much money will these programs save? Well, according to Lew's post, "if they are successfully scaled," they "could" (maybe!) save $100 million—yes, that's million with an "m."
To be fair, the administration does have bigger savings in mind: The president's budget, if passed, includes a variety of reform proposals that are estimated to save as much as $160 billion over the next decade. Why, that's almost 13 percent of the $1.25 trillion worth of improper payments we'd see over the next decade if bad payments simply held flat at this year's levels. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem especially likely given that between 2009 and 2010, improper payments rose by $15 billion.
This isn't the first time a White House budget director has stroked his chin and suggested that perhaps all these faulty payments are a problem: Last year, former Obama budget braniac Peter Orszag noticed that the federal government was making a lot payments to criminals and people of the not-alive persuasion, and wondered aloud about whether the administration should maybe do something about it.