Benefit and Loan Programs

Improved Data Sharing Could Enhance Program Integrity Gao ID: HEHS-00-119 September 13, 2000

This report focuses on how improvements in data sharing among federal agencies could enhance program integrity in benefit and loan programs. Because many benefit and loan programs require the same information, it is more efficient for them to share that data with one another rather than requiring each program to gather and verify similar data. However, several legal issues concerning data privacy and security may limit agencies' ability to share data. Federal action to improve data sharing and program coordination, particularly across states, while protecting the confidentiality of sensitive data could help to overcome weaknesses in the program eligibility determination process.

GAO noted that: (1) federally funded benefit and loan programs require similar types of information about individuals to correctly determine their eligibility for assistance; (2) such information includes their identity, earned income and unearned income, assets, citizenship status, and household composition; (3) while numerous factors can affect an individual's eligibility for benefits, income is generally one of the most important and most prone to error or inaccurate reporting; (4) some programs obtain information from independent, third-party sources such as federal and state agencies, or private companies such as credit bureaus to verify the accuracy of self-reported data; (5) the three programs GAO reviewed could use enhanced data sharing to make more timely and accurate eligibility determinations; (6) other legal restrictions, as well as management, administrative, and technological challenges, limit the ability of federally funded benefit and loan programs to effectively share information with one another; (7) a number of laws have been enacted over the past 25 years that limit access to sensitive data sources in an effort to protect individual privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information or to address concerns about taxpayer compliance with tax laws; (8) these statutes include: (a) section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), which governs the disclosure of taxpayer information; (b) provisions in the Social Security Act that restrict access to the Office of Child Support Enforcement's (OCSE) National Directory of New Hires; and the (c) Privacy Act, which balances the government's need to collect and maintain sensitive information about individuals against their right to privacy; (9) providing more federally funded programs access to restricted data sources and the ability to share this information with state and local agencies that administer various benefit and loan programs often requires amending federal laws governing the use of the data; and (10) however, increasing the access to sensitive data for benefit and loan programs can be balanced with the need for personal privacy, confidentiality, and tax compliance.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Team: Phone:

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.