The Government Accountability Office said it could not determine how much of $379 million that the FBI received for healthcare fraud investigations in fiscal 2000 through 2003 was actually spent on healthcare fraud. The poor accounting coincided with the agency's shift of resources to counterterrorism investigations. The money was authorized under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 solely for healthcare fraud enforcement. The GAO report, requested by the Senate Finance Committee, did not estimate how much of the HIPAA money was inadequately accounted for. In one FBI account -- for healthcare fraud equipment -- the GAO said the discrepancy ranged from $424,000 to $7.5 million per year. The FBI estimated it spent more investigating healthcare fraud during the four-year period than it received under HIPAA, and the GAO did not accuse the agency of illegal behavior. The GAO recommended several interim steps to improve accounting and said a new financial management system being implemented at the FBI should prevent future problems.
In a response, FBI Chief Financial Officer Joseph Ford said the 9/11 terrorist attacks "demanded an instant 100% commitment from the FBI towards counterterrorism," but Ford said the agency was dedicated to accurately accounting for its healthcare fraud funding. Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Congress must make sure combating healthcare fraud is a top priority for agencies that receive funding for the purpose. "It violates federal law to reprogram the dollars specifically allocated by Congress for this purpose, and it's inexcusable that the government cannot account for millions of dollars set aside to fight healthcare fraud," Grassley said in a news release. Read the GAO report. -- by Mark Taylor