Thomson Reuters' “2023 Government Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report” finds that front-line government employees have largely put the global pandemic behind them, and although progress has been made on several fronts, many familiar challenges in the fight against fraud still persist
Every year, the Thomson Reuters Institute surveys state and local government workers to assess whether they have the tools and resources they need to effectively prevent, detect, and investigate fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA).
In the past few years, the results of these surveys have been disproportionately impacted by the strain that the global Covid-19 pandemic had inflicted upon government agencies. This year, however, front-line government workers appear to have assimilated the lessons of the pandemic and are back to grappling with many of the same challenges they faced before the pandemic hit — namely, tight budgets, too much work, not enough resources, obsolete technology, staffing issues, and lack of time for professional development.
The legacy of the pandemic
The newly published 2023 Government Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report gathered survey input from 170 state and local government officials representing more than a dozen different agencies. These annual reports are based on the most comprehensive survey data available from front-line government employees — such as directors, managers, administrators, and investigators — whose job is to protect government programs from fraud, exploitation, and abuse.
This year’s results suggest that although government workers have largely put the pandemic behind them, the crisis had forced government agencies to re-think how they operate, and many of the necessary adaptations — such as the option of remote work and more virtual interaction with beneficiaries — are now permanent features of government work at both the state and local levels.
Another pandemic-era legacy involves ongoing staffing and retention issues that are coming to the forefront because of a wave of retirement among Baby Boomer-age workers that accelerated during the pandemic. Recruiting skilled talent continues to be a challenge for governments everywhere, especially in areas that demand specialized technical expertise. Not surprisingly, many front-line employees who took on extra work during the pandemic report that their workload has not decreased, due primarily to staffing shortages and budget cuts.
The impact on fraud prevention
One might expect that over-worked employees, strained resources, and lost institutional knowledge would diminish a government agency’s capacity to fight FWA, but that does not seem to be the case everywhere. Indeed, this year’s study found that more than half (59%) of front-line government employees and investigators still feel confident that they have the resources necessary to fight FWA — although their confidence level is down from 72% in 2022.
One possible reason for this drop in confidence is that removing the pandemic from the equation has done little to diminish overall fraud activity.
In addition to the usual forms of fraud — such as forged documents, false claims, kickbacks, and stolen identities — government investigators also report encountering more sophisticated plots to steal the public’s money. Consequently, more than half (55%) of respondents to this year’s survey believe overall fraud activity will continue to increase over the next two years, and that the number of deep-dive investigations requiring additional resources isn’t likely to decrease anytime soon.
Positive signs of change
If one is looking for positive signs of progress, however, it can perhaps be found in the number of survey respondents who no longer list a lack of resources and money as their primary challenges. Comparatively speaking, only 44% of respondents to our 2023 survey said they lacked the resources and budget to effectively combat FWA, compared to almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents in 2020 who said they were plagued by budget woes.
Further, more than half (51%) of this year’s respondents reported having specific budget allocations for acquiring the tools and resources needed to fight FWA. As a result, more government agencies are employing tools that go far beyond the scope of Google to search public records, court documents, government websites, and other resources that investigators frequently use to verify beneficiary claims and identities.
Another positive sign is that 24% of respondents working at state agencies said they were strengthening their FWA teams by hiring more anti-fraud workers. Indeed, allocating additional resources and personnel to the fight against FWA suggests that these agencies are taking the threat of fraud seriously. Unfortunately, it also implies that the growth of FWA is substantial enough to require these additional resources, and that the overall arms race against fraudsters continues to escalate.