As any “Fraud of the day” reader knows, there are a lot of fraudsters out there using some creative – and some not-so-creative – approaches to defrauding government programs. Federal, state and local agencies are combating these efforts and, as is the case with most endeavors, some agencies are more successful than others. In today’s “Fraud of the Day,” we’re highlighting a success story out of Nassau County, New York, where its Department of Social Services has transformed the fraud investigation unit into a model of success.
According to Newsday, a recent audit by Nassau County’s Comptroller “found that the department ranks as one of the most effective in the state in identifying and referring fraud cases for prosecution.” This is a significant change from the unit’s previous record, which was characterized by the article as one of “poor performance” in past years. In fact, in 2004, the County Comptroller found “the investigations unit understaffed, lacking in supervision and training, and short on criminal referrals.” Now, it’s a different story; when the Newsday article appeared in December, the unit had an impressive record for 2011: referring $1.7 million cases to the district attorney for prosecution. (Why can’t all counties be this aggressive?) “’We are detecting fraud quicker, smarter and more efficiently,’” noted Scott Skrynecki, a former Department of Homeland Security Official who is now in charge of the unit. (Now that’s what I’m talking about!)
The Comptroller praised the unit for organizational improvements in the areas of training and public outreach, noting: “’It is not often that we find significant improvements in government efficiencies.’” Even so, the comptroller suggested ways to further strengthen the unit’s efforts to combat fraud, including hiring more bilingual investigators, using unmarked cars for surveillance and teaming investigators in pairs. The department is reviewing the recommendations, but notes “that the county’s fiscal climate could limit some personnel initiatives.” (If investigators are finding fraud, doesn’t it make sense to invest in more specialized investigators to find more fraud?)
There is a lesson here for other agencies. It is possible to improve your fraud investigation program by identifying areas of weakness, adding the proper resources to enhance results, and instituting organizational change to overcome them.