Weekly News Kickoff: Government Makes Nearly $137 Billion in Improper Payments in 2015, Largest Figure on Record - (Archived)

Last year, the government hit the largest figure on record for improper payments — over $1 trillion since 2004. What was the biggest contributor to that? Increased Medicaid errors. Meanwhile, Homeland Security submitted its 2017 budget request, promising not to squander cybersecurity funds. Can DHS do it? Welcome to the weekly news kickoff. Enjoy these highlights.

Government Approaches $137 Billion in Improper Payments in 2015
Federal News Radio reports that Federal agencies issued an estimated $136.7 billion in improper payments during fiscal year 2015, the largest annual tally since 2004, when agencies first began reporting such data. The figure, reported as part of the release of the government’s consolidated annual financial statements, was $12 billion higher than the Office of Management and Budget had projected for 2015, and for the first time since 2004 it raised the cumulative total of improper payments above $1 trillion. More precisely: $1.137 trillion. As in past years, the Medicare and Medicaid programs were responsible for the lion’s share of the overall total. Increased error rates in Medicaid during 2015 were the main culprit in driving up improper payments across all government operations. According to the separate Department of Health and Human Services financial statement, the error rate for Medicaid grew from 6.7 percent in 2014 to 9.8 percent in 2015 as that program continued to accept responsibility for the health care bills of millions of additional patients under the Affordable Care Act.

Homeland Secretary Tells Congress It Won’t Squander Cyber Funds
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who is asking for an extra $200 million for cybersecurity in next year’s budget, promised legislators the department won’t squander those funds, Federal Times reports. Johnson presented the DHS 2017 budget request to the House and Senate appropriations committees on Feb. 24, laying out the department’s priorities, including cybersecurity. The department’s plans for 2017 go beyond technology, putting DHS at the center of the government’s cybersecurity operations and proposing a reorganization of the department. The secretary cited President Obama’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP), a set of proposals to boost security over the next year, two years and 10 years.

FedRAMP Wants To Overhaul Cloud Authorizations
The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program is postponing the launch of its high baseline standards while it tries to speed its sluggish authorization process, FCW reports. FedRAMP has been expanding and bringing more cloud service providers (CSPs) and third-party assessment organizations onboard, FedRAMP Director Matt Goodrich said. To better handle the workload, he and his team have been meeting with stakeholders and hearing the same basic message, he said: Agencies are interested only in whether CSPs can serve their needs and whether they’re not risky. Goodrich said he’ll soon test a redesign of the authorization process that will focus on actual capabilities of CSPs rather than documentation.

New AI Tool from HR Startup Alerts Employers to Waning Worker Engagement
Researchers and pollsters have warned for years about a lack of employee engagement in the workplace, FierceCIO reports. Just last month Gallup reported that nearly 52 percent of U.S. employees were not engaged and that nearly 16 percent were actively disengaged. Glint, a Silicon Valley startup that develops employee engagement software, announced its latest offering Tuesday: AI-for-HR, a proprietary machine learning technology that helps organizations detect on-the-job apathy among workers. The technology’s Smart Alerts for Predictive Models pinpoints potentially dissatisfied staffers and sends HR teams real-time findings. That way, according to Glint, the company can make faster, better-informed decisions and immediately act to increase employee engagement and performance, and reduce attrition. The proprietary AI technology is built to learn and adapt to the particular formula for success of each team and organization using it, and the system continually updates itself as it acquires new and relevant data.

Lawmakers Worry New Security Clearance Entity Will Be ‘Another Disaster’
A bipartisan chorus of lawmakers on Thursday questioned the Obama administration’s creation of a new federal entity to conduct background investigations. The lawmakers said the plan failed to make fundamental changes, GovExec reports. The phasing out of the Federal Investigative Service in favor of the new National Background Investigative Bureau appears to ignore some of the most fundamental problems with the security clearance system, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said at a hearing to examine the plan. Administration officials defended the overhaul, saying it signals a significant change and that it will provide more security for sensitive data. OPM acting Director Beth Cobert attempted to assuage those concerns, saying NBIB’s creation will modernize the security clearance process, leverage Defense’s cybersecurity expertise, allow the president to nominate a director to oversee the background investigation system, and boost operational flexibility. Aside from describing those broad-brush strokes and emphasizing the Pentagon’s new role, however, Cobert did not lay out specifics of how NBIB will differ from FIS.

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