Improper Payments: 124 Programs, $124 Billion

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that 124 programs across 22 different agencies made $124.7 billion in improper payments in FY 2014. That's up from $105.8 billion in the year before, and represents what GAO calls a "persistent, government-wide issue."

Improper payments are those issued erroneously (though not necessarily fraudulently) through government programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Since 2003, these payments have totaled about $1 trillion.

GAO found that in 2014, the programs with the highest error rates were the EITC (27.2 percent), the School Breakfast Program (25.6 percent), and programs authorized under the 2002 Farm Bill (23.1 percent). Nearly 90 percent of all improper payments were in the form of overpayments, and Medicare, EITC, and Medicaid alone accounted for 76.2 percent of the total that year.

For perspective, consider that discretionary spending totaled about $1.18 trillion in 2014 -- that means improper payments that year were equivalent to about 10 percent of the cost of all discretionary programs. They represented about 3.6 percent of all government outlays that year.