Special Report

These Federal Agencies Are Wasting the Most Taxpayer Money

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The U.S. national debt has long been a point of contention in American politics, and recently, it has taken on a renewed urgency on Capitol Hill. Decades of deficit spending has pushed the national debt to $34.6 trillion, double what it was only 10 years ago. Interest payments on the national debt are projected to top $870 billion in fiscal 2024 alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

For some lawmakers, balancing the federal budget and reducing the national debt is a top priority. Proposed austerity measures include cuts to a wide range of federal programs such as air traffic control, food safety inspections, housing assistance, scientific research, as well as Medicare and Social Security. (Here is a look at the institutions Americans have lost the most faith in.)

Of course, these programs benefit millions of Americans, and their downsizing or elimination would have far reaching consequences. But cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse in federally funded programs would be a far more politically palatable alternative to reducing deficit spending.

In its annual improper payments report, the Office of Management and Budget found that federal agencies wasted nearly $785 billion on overpayments in the last five years. Simply making accurate payments could have saved taxpayers over $175 billion in fiscal 2023 alone.

Using data from the OMB, 24/7 Wall St. identified the government agencies wasting the most taxpayer money. The 13 federal agencies on this list are ranked by the dollar value of overpayments made in the government’s 2023 fiscal year. All supplemental data in this story also came from the OMB report. Among these agencies, overpayments range from about $16 million to nearly $99 billion.

While some of this money is recoverable, taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for much of that wasted spending. The agencies on this list recovered a reported $25.2 billion in improperly made payments in fiscal 2023, some share of which was paid in error in a previous year. Still, this amounts to only about 14% of the total overpayments made in 2023. (These are the companies that receive the most in government subsidies.)

Notably, government agencies themselves are not always directly responsible for overpayments. In seven of the 13 agencies on this list, 50% or more of the total value of overpayments in the last fiscal year were determined to have been outside of agency control. A small share of these cases are attributable to fraud.

These are the government agencies wasting the most taxpayer money.

13. Corporation for National and Community Service

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $16.0 million (4.2% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 100% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $220,000
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $383.4 million
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: AmeriCorps, Foster Grandparent Program, Senior Companion Program

12. Federal Communications Commission

Source: Ser Amantio di Nicolao / Wikimedia Commons
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $85.1 million (1.5% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 18.5% within agency control; 81.5% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $85.1 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $5.6 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Universal Service Fund

11. Department of Defense

Source: Phototreat / iStock via Getty Images
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $202.5 million (0.03% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 99.9% within agency control; 0.1% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $1.7 billion
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $621.2 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Military and civilian payroll, military retirement, travel pay

10. Office of Personnel Management

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $224.3 million (0.2% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 100% within agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $232.2 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $95.3 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Federal Retirement Services

9. Department of Education

Source: BanksPhotos / iStock via Getty Images
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $471.9 million (0.2% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 80.9% within agency control; 19.1% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $215.3 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $221.6 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Federal Pell Grant Program, Title I grants, special education grants

8. Department of Transportation

Source: Drew Angerer / Getty Images News via Getty Images
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $526.9 million (0.7% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 100% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $11.0 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $75.5 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration

7. Department of Veterans Affairs

Source: oregonmildep / Flickr
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $1.8 billion (5.0% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 96.9% within agency control; 3.1% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $642.2 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $36.0 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Community Care, pensions, medical contracts

6. Small Business Administration

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $3.6 billion (2.9% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 100% within agency controlOverpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $2.2 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $122.5 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Paycheck Protection Loan Program, disaster assistance loans

5. Department of Agriculture

Source: 2022 Getty Images / Getty Images News via Getty Images
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $8.5 billion (6.6% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 4.1% within agency control; 95.9% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $550.9 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $128.2 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Risk Management Agency, Commodity Credit Corporation, Food and Nutrition Service

4. Social Security Administration

Source: Sundry Photography / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $11.1 billion (0.8% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 17.1% within agency control; 82.9% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $4.9 billion
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $1.3 trillion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Supplemental Security Income, Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance

3. Department of Labor

Source: VitalyEdush / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $24.7 billion (16.2% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 87.3% within agency control; 12.7% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $997.3 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $152.6 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Employment and Training Administration, Office of Workers’ Compensation

2. Treasury Department

Source: bpperry / iStock via Getty Images
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $25.0 billion (32.1% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 100% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $59.2 million
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $78.0 billion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Earned Income Tax Credit, Additional Child Tax Credit, American Opportunity Tax Credit

1. Department of Health and Human Services

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Overpayments made in fiscal 2023: $98.7 billion (6.6% of agency spending)
  • Responsibility for overpayments in fiscal 2023: 0.3% within agency control; 99.7% outside of agency control
  • Overpayments recovered in fiscal 2023: $15.8 billion
  • Total agency spending in fiscal 2023: $1.5 trillion
  • Sub-agencies/programs overspending in fiscal 2023 include: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Administration for Children and Families

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