The Government Accountability Office said that from 2008 to 2012 one agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, made $10.6 million payments on behalf of more than 1,100 people who'd been dead at least a year. Another branch, the Risk Management Agency, paid out $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who'd been dead at least two years.
Some of the payments may have been legal because they were for work done before the farmers died, but GAO said the problem is the two agencies don't perform the routine checks — such as looking at the Social Security lists — to see.
"Until and unless NRCS and RMA develop and implement procedures to have their payment or subsidy data records matched against SSA's complete death master file, either through coordination with FSA or on their own, these agencies cannot know if they are providing payments to, or subsidies on behalf of, deceased individuals; how often they are providing such payments or subsidies; or in what amounts," the investigators wrote.
GAO said the Agriculture Department has shown some progress since a previous audit found hundreds payments to 172,801 dead people, totaling some $1.1 billion, between 1999 and 2005.
And the current rate of potentially bad payments is slim compared to the overall budget for subsidies, which runs to about $20 billion a year.
In its official response to the audit, the Agriculture Department said it does have some procedures in place to check to see if it is paying live beneficiaries.
But the department acknowledged their procedures "were not effectively and consistently implemented to identify deceased individuals."
Near the end of the GAO's yearlong audit, the Agriculture Department signed an agreement to begin to get the Social Security Administration's death master file, so it can begin checking names of those it is paying.