By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
The 1999 movie The Sixth Sense gave us the catch-phrase “I see dead people.” Now the federal government has given us a possible sequel in the catch-phrase lexicon: “We pay dead people.”According to Ed O’Keefe’s Washington Post story, a newly released audit by Patrick E. McFarland, the Inspector General of federal Office of Personnel Management, reveals that thousands of federal retirees are still getting their pensions checks even though they’re suffering from the ultimate disqualification: They’re dead.It’s the same costly error McFarland cited in his previous audits, in 2005 and 2008, but little has been done to solve it. Indeed, he reports that in the past five years the federal government “has made more than $601 million in benefits payments to deceased federal annuitants.” This brings the total since fiscal 2000 to more than $1 billion in pension payments to the dead.Granted, wasting $601 million in five years or $1 billion-plus in a decade is merely a slow leak compared to the $535 million gusher of money the feds squandered by guaranteeing a loan to Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar energy startup whose top executives were called to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday. Alas, these crony capitalists were reluctant witnesses. As the Associated Press reports, “CEO Brian Harrison and the company’s chief financial officer, Bill Stover, both invoked their Fifth Amendment right to decline to testify to avoid self-incrimination.”Meanwhile, the problem of paying dead people is apparently getting worse. As The Post’s report notes, “Improper payments to dead retirees increased 70 percent in the past five years.” Moreover, in one especially egregious case, such payments continued until 2008, some 37 years after the retired federal worker had died. Those particular erroneous payments ceased only after the death of the retiree’s son, who evidently was pocketing his dearly departed Dad’s pension money all those years.Of course, pension benefits for the dead aren’t Uncle Sam’s only type of waste. In all, McFarland reports, “the government’s improper payments totaled about $125 billion in fiscal 2010.” Among those improper outlays: the Obama stimulus program’s “89,000 payments of $250 each to dead or incarcerated people.”During the recent debates about raising the debt ceiling, President Obama and his congressional allies demanded “a balanced approach” that calls for making moderate cuts in spending sometime in the distant future while immediately imposing large tax hikes on “the rich.” Americans are warned that this step is absolutely necessary because there’s not enough wasteful spending to cut our way out of deficits and debt. A cynic might wonder, however, if the Obama Administration fears that disturbing the dead might risk causing them to quit voting in Chicago.