By NEIL GORDON
Yesterday, there was a belated celebration of the 25th anniversary of the False Claims Amendments Act of 1986. The Department of Justice marked the occasion with remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, and Members of Congress, and a panel discussion entitled "$30 Billion, 25 Years: The False Claims Act in Review" featuring department officials and outside experts.
The federal False Claims Act is a law that imposes liability on persons and companies who defraud federal government programs: Medicare and Medicaid, national security programs, federal housing, disaster relief loans, and agricultural subsidies. The law allows private persons (whistleblowers) to file legal actions called qui tam lawsuits on behalf of the United States to recover taxpayer money lost to fraud, waste, or abuse. POGO blog readers might recall that the Department of Justice announced in December that it has recovered more than $30 billion in judgments and settlements under the Act since 1986, with last year bringing in more than any other year.
The 1986 amendments, sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), strengthened the Act’s qui tam provisions by creating incentives for whistleblower lawsuits, such as increasing the amount of money successful plaintiffs can recover. Grassley and Berman were also instrumental in the passage of the second major overhaul of the Act, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009.
For those interested, this document shows federal fraud recovery statistics from 1987 to 2010. Some of those fraud cases can be found in POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, which now contains at least 168 False Claims Act instances, accounting for $8.4 billion in fines, penalties, and settlements.
The False Claims Act actually dates back to the time of President Abraham Lincoln, who urged Congress to tackle rampant Civil War contracting corruption. Congress passed the False Claims Act (commonly known as the “Lincoln Law”) in March 1863. I guess that means we’re in for a big 150th anniversary celebration next year.
Coincidentally, 2011 marked the 25th anniversary of another anti-fraud statute. The Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act (PFCRA)—the so-called “Mini-False Claims Act”—was enacted in 1986 to enable the government to handle smaller fraud claims (less than $150,000) through a more streamlined administrative process. However, a report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office found this statute is rarely being used: five agencies referred a total of 141 PFCRA cases to the Department of Justice over five years. One agency, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was responsible for 96 percent of those cases.
Neil Gordon is a POGO Investigator.
Image via the Justice Department.