Senior Executives Association Annual Summit Highlights Importance of Identifying Fraud

The Senior Executives Association’s (SEA) Leadership Summit this week honored members of the civil service who received the Presidential Rank Award in 2019, the highest civilian honor, and hosted panels and seminars on improving federal service. One such panel focused on the importance of working with investigative entities to identify fraud, waste, and abuse within programs.

The panel on “Unlocking the Program Integrity Toolbox” guided federal managers and supervisors through the proactive and investigative side of identifying risk. The panel was moderated by Grant Thornton Principal and former Government Accountability Office (GAO) specialist Linda Miller with panelists including Nancy O’Connor, Acting Director, Office of Program Operations & Local Engagement, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMMS); Joe Loddo, Director, Office of Continuous Operations & Risk Management, Small Business Administration (SBA); and Howard Arp, Director of Investigations, Forensic Audits and Investigative Service, Government Accountability Office.

Panelists noted that, for a significant time, identifying fraud and abuse within agencies was believed to be the role of an Inspector General (IG) or other investigative bodies. At CMMS and SBA, O’Connor and Loddo strived to create a culture of accountability that proactively works to reduce threats of fraud when they are first uncovered.

The first step in creating this culture is often educating the workforce on their role in combatting fraud, waste, and abuse.

Research from SEA and Grant Thornton presented at the conference indicates that 62 percent of federal executives report a lack of knowledge of tools and techniques for combatting lack of program integrity as a significant barrier for program integrity efforts.

To combat the knowledge gap, Loddo explained how SBA has worked closely with their IG to share non-confidential information and data on fraud to understand potential risk areas within the agency.

Miller, who led the GAO team which created a framework of leading practices for fraud risk management in federal programs, noted the importance of storytelling to inform the workforce about types of fraud. Something as simple as sending around stories of successful internal fraud discoveries can begin embedding the concept of fraud detection into the program teams’ mind, she explained.

While CMMS created a center dedicated to program integrity, Miller also stressed simple fraud detection techniques, such as applying the Benford’s Law to data sets, which can be used internally to identify potential fraud before it requires an IG investigation and without expensive buy in.

All panelists expressed a common sentiment that fraud, waste, and abuse detection cannot be built around a “check the box” mentality, but instead it must come from a culture of continuous monitoring which views each employee as having personal stake in the integrity of the program.

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