The Government Accountability Office says that the Social Security Administration made about $1.3 billion in payments over two years to about 36,000 people who were believed to be working, while claiming they were disabled.
The GAO arrived at this number by comparing names on the National Directory of New Hires and people on disability insurance.
While $1.3 billion sounds like a whole lot of money, keep in mind that this only represents less than 1 percent of all the disability benefits paid by the agency.
"'The report lays out clear, common-sense steps that the agency can and should take in order to avoid improper payments,' said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. 'However, if we're serious about preventing waste and fraud and ensuring that these critical benefits get to the people who need and deserve them, Congress must also do its part and provide needed resources and access to basic anti-fraud data to the Social Security Administration.'
"The Social Security Administration said its accuracy rate for disability payments is more than 99 percent. But the agency noted that even small errors translate into big numbers."
Social Security promised an investigation and to recoup any erroneous payments.
Another thing to keep in mind about the audit is that this is only an estimate. To arrive at a real number, the GAO says, a review of individual cases would be required.
This means that the $1.3 billion number could be about $352 million too high or too low. Indeed, the GAO points out that an audit by Social Security in 2011 found that it had overpaid benefits by $1.62 billion during one fiscal year. That amounts to 1.27 percent of all benefits paid in 2011.