USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator Jonathan Coppess said the agency has published a final rule intended to strengthen payment integrity and eliminate waste and abuse.

"The Farm Service Agency has worked hard to make procedural improvements that have reduced error rates and save taxpayer dollars from being wasted," said Coppess. "With this final rule, we are codifying improvements that have allowed the FSA to reduce the error rate in the percentage of payments from 2 percent to under 0.1 percent. I am committed to continuing to look for ways to protect the integrity of our program payments."

At issue in the past has been the dispersal of payments to agricultural producers after an individual's death. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit in 2007 found that the vast majority of farm payments were made properly, but highlighted areas for improvement. Since then, the Farm Service Agency has worked to implement additional safeguards to protect payment integrity. It is important to note, however, that USDA is legally obligated -- and it is proper -- to pay the estates of producers who die and qualify for program payments because heirs have legal rights to receive those payments earned during a producer's lifetime.

For example, under the Direct and Counter-Cyclical Payment Program, counter-cyclical payments may be legally issued up to two years and three months after program enrollment. The same taxpayer identification number must be used for the entire program payment period to properly track the issuance of program benefits.

The safeguards codified in this final rule include:

• Each quarter (double the amount required by the law); USDA matches individuals who receive FSA program payments with data provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to determine if any program recipient is deceased.

• Deceased individual listings are investigated through local FSA county offices. FSA would only pay a farmer after death when the farmer applied for the benefit before death and is eligible to receive the benefit, but died before the payment was received. These cases account for payments made by FSA to deceased individuals.

• Payments are only made on behalf of a deceased producer if the payment was earned by that producer before the producer died; and the payment was requested by the deceased or the deceased's authorized representative before the producer died; or was requested after the producer's death by a person authorized by law to act for the deceased producer.

To read the rule, see the December 29, 2010, edition of the Federal Register. For more information about the Farm Service Agency and Farm Programs please visit your FSA county office or www.fsa.usda.gov.