Sunday, July 13, 2008

Backlog worth billions

Backlog worth billions
Justice Department taking too long to resolve backlog of cases alleging fraud

Sat, Jul 12, 2008 (2:08 a.m.)

A backlog of whistleblower cases accusing private contractors of defrauding the government out of billions of dollars has grown to more than 900, and lawyers say the Justice Department is either dragging its feet or is unable to deal with the burgeoning caseload.

Many of the cases involve federal payments to contractors for services connected with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Washington Post reports. The caseloads have risen by 300 to 400 a year since 2001, commensurate with a period in which the services government is supposed to provide have increasingly been farmed out to private companies.

The Justice Department reviews whistleblowers’ allegations in a complicated process that is closed to the public. It can take 14 months or more for officials to determine whether the department should intervene, and can then take years to resolve a case.

The payoff for pursuing those accused of defrauding the government can be huge. The federal government has recouped almost $13 billion in recent years from cases in which verdicts or settlements were reached.

The 75 Justice Department lawyers assigned to these cases handle about 100 of them a year. That has created a backlog that will take a decade to clear, even if no new cases are added, a spokesman for Taxpayers Against Fraud, an advocacy group that supports more funding for whistleblower cases, told the Post.

Other critics say a lack of funding is only part of the reason for the delays and accuse the Justice Department of dragging its feet because federal officials don’t want to admit they have been overbilled and, what’s worse, have paid those bills.

This is ridiculous. Bush administration officials and Republican conservatives have called for cuts in social programs at every turn, while giving private contractors lucrative deals to provide vital services — which in some cases aren’t delivered, or for which the government is overcharged.

The Justice Department must investigate these cases more diligently and quickly and put an end to this fleecing of American taxpayers.

No comments: