Better Accountability and Security Needed to Improve Government Aid

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An unprecedented amount of money was pushed to Americans to aid them through the pandemic. And judging by the current administration’s budget proposals, there are no signs of that stopping.

But these resources aren’t limitless. Governments have a responsibility to the American taxpayer to use them wisely and make the most of every dollar. That’s why, to truly get the most out of government aid during the economic recovery, we need to leverage existing and emerging technologies.

Accountability is the Problem

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, so we can retroactively identify areas in which the US government, at all levels, could have responded better to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic impact it’s had on many Americans. This analysis then serves a purpose. With future upcoming aid payments likely on the horizon, we need to use the analysis to learn from past mistakes and avoid them in the future.

There were plenty of examples of fraudulent claims on unemployment insurance benefits, for instance. States were under pressure to get relief to Americans, but their haste meant they didn’t always effectively use identity verification technologies to vet claimants properly. The cost to Americans due to scams came out to billions of dollars. Yet more money went to people who didn’t qualify for it or larger companies that didn’t require PPP loans to stay afloat. Clearly, there’s a real need to implement a better verification process.

While states took different approaches to meet the economic needs of their constituents, they ran into several problems. Some states hastened to send payments out quickly, but this meant they weren’t able to prove identity effectively. Scammers took advantage of this well-meaning haste. Other states used outdated or inefficient systems to vet aid recipients better, but this meant that the people who needed money weren’t able to get it in a timely manner. Of course, scammers found ways to cheat these states as well.

Security is the Solution

There’s a way to meet in the middle. Both constituents and government employees can benefit from a more secure way to apply for and receive this aid. Government services are notoriously user-unfriendly, and while they have made strides over the past few years, there’s still plenty of room to improve. Government service agencies benefit the most when they outsource services like identity verification to private companies. Government agencies juggle many priorities by necessity, whereas private companies can specialize and focus their attention primarily on developing technological improvements. Also, where a verification system is developed by one government agency in-house, there is no economy of scale. Other agencies will need to build their own custom systems at significant expense. In addition to the expense, constituents suffer because they are required to navigate new, difficult-to-use systems each time they seek to access government benefits. As one person may often seek services from multiple government agencies, this can quickly lead to frustration. Contrarily, where one private contractor’s system is deployed across many agencies, efficiencies are realized. These companies can help make sure aid is going to a person who needs it, instead of someone who’s deceased or companies that don’t exist.

Beyond security, agencies need to be accountable for how their resources are used. More resources spent on inefficient systems reduces the aid that gets to constituents. Better security systems can make for a more efficient process. The main problem has been properly vetting individuals to make sure they are who they say they are and that they have a genuine entitlement to aid. Having one system that works across agencies could reduce the onerous process of proofing identity, and it could even make the application process completely remote. Plugging private sector identity management firms into government agencies, even for passive monitoring, could be a way to improve efficiency and make the most of government aid dollars.

Now is the time to take these problems seriously and implement solutions. Crises, by their nature, are unpredictable and waiting until they strike almost guarantees disaster. Government agencies mustn’t wait until after the next crisis hits and after being victimized by fraudsters again to solve ineffective verification. Now is the time to implement effective security systems across agencies. Tackling the problem now ensures that government agencies and their constituents can gradually acclimate to the new systems, avoiding user overload when a crisis hits.

Many Americans and small businesses will continue to need aid as we (hopefully) wind our way out of this pandemic. As stewards of taxpayer dollars, government agencies have an obligation to monitor for fraud, waste and abuse as they get this aid to their constituents. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Modern technology can improve customer experiences and make critical processes more secure for everyone involved with the right tools in place. 

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