The agency released its annual report on automated data sharing, touting the economic benefits by reducing costs and erroneous and duplicative payments.
In 2019, the Homeland Security Department shared individuals’ personal information with 11 federal and state programs, and in doing so estimates saving taxpayers more than $578 million in the process.
DHS shares data, separately, on emergency assistance and immigration status with other federal agencies and state programs in efforts to reduce duplicative and erroneous payments. Under a 1988 law—the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act—federal agencies have to publish an annual report detailing all active computer matching agreements, or CMAs, and justify the sharing of people’s personal information.
The 2019 report—released August 14—details agreements with five federal agencies and five states for a total of 11 data matching programs. The agreements are primarily with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to avoid duplicating emergency benefits payments and with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to check on the immigration status of people applying for social benefits.
“In addition to creating significant savings for taxpayers, these contracts protect personal privacy by establishing the conditions, safeguards, and procedures under which the data is disclosed,” according to the report, the first prepared by current DHS Chief Privacy Officer Dena Kozanas, who also serves as the department’s chief FOIA officer. “One of the Privacy Office’s functions is to ensure that technologies used at the department sustain, and do not erode, privacy protections.”
But the primary focus of the agreements is cost savings through suspension or denial of payments and cost avoidance by automating paper-based processes. The report notes savings ranged from $380,000 a year to $414 million.
The DHS Data Integrity Board—charged with overseeing and approving the agreements—did not receive reports of any violations of matching agreements in 2019 and “was not involved in any litigation related to CMAs in 2019,” the report states. The board also “did not reject any proposed matching programs during the calendar year.”
The DIB reviewed and approved 11 matching agreements in 2019:
FEMA and the Small Business Administration
The two agencies agreed to compare records for Other Needs Assistance and Housing Assistance funding to ensure requesters were not getting duplicate benefits. The agencies estimate savings of $615,333 in time saved by linking databases—rather than using manual processes—and $2.5 million from an “erroneous overpayment.”
The initial agreement was signed in 2010. The current 18-month CMA runs through September 2020.
FEMA and the Housing and Urban Development Department
Since 2016, the two agencies have matched their disaster assistance records to ensure people don’t receive duplicate benefits. While the cost of managing the agreement is estimated around $4.2 million over seven years—$3.6 million for FEMA and $560,000 for HUD—officials estimate savings of $107 million over the same period—$13 million for FEMA and $94 million for HUD.
The current 18-month agreement lasts through September 2020. A new one-year CMA is expected to be signed, running through September 2021.
USCIS and the Education Department
The Education Department uses USCIS’s database to confirm the immigration status of aliens applying for financial assistance under the Higher Education Act. Officials estimate the federal government saved $132 million during the 2017-18 academic year, while saving schools an additional $5.3 million.
The current 18-month agreement ends in April 2021. If the program continues, officials expect a one-year agreement extending through April 2022.
USCIS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
The two federal agencies are required to compare data under the Affordable Care Act. As part of the agreement, CMS maintains the Federal Data Services Hub—at a cost of $30.5 million a year. The system matches some 72% of ACA applicants against CMS records to determine eligibility, accounting for more than $45 billion in benefits.
The current one-year agreement runs through April 2021.
USCIS and the Social Security Administration
Social Security matches its records against the USCIS immigration database to determine whether past recipients are still living in the U.S. As justification for the CMA, officials point to fiscal year 2015, during which it cost $181,130 to administer the program for a savings of more than $1 million in suspended payments—a nearly 6:1 ratio. However, the document does not provide any recent figures.
The current one-year agreement is set to expire in December 2020. An 18-month agreement has been proposed, extending the program through June 2022.
USCIS and New York State Department of Labor
The New York Labor Department checks its unemployment compensation claims against USCIS’s immigration database. The agreement has saved more than $1.6 million over two years by denying claims for ineligible immigrants.
The first CMA between these agencies was signed in 2009. The current 18-month agreement runs through December 2020. If reupped this year, the new agreement would last one year, through December 2021.
USCIS and the New Jersey Department of Labor
Similar to the agreement with New York, New Jersey’s Labor Department checks with USCIS to confirm immigrants’ eligibility for unemployment compensation. The CMA with New Jersey saved the state an estimated $380,475 in 2017 and identified 56 ineligible immigrants receiving benefits.
The current 18-month CMA expires in December. A one-year agreement is expected to extend the data matching through December 2021.
USCIS and the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance
The agreement between the DHS and the state of Massachusetts enabled the latter to check on the immigration status of applicants for unemployment compensation. The program cost $637,051 to administer and saved an estimated $20 million over 18 months.
That agreement runs out in December. A proposed one-year CMA would extend the program through December 2021.
USCIS and the Texas Workforce Commission
The Texas version of the same unemployment compensation eligibility check agreement saved the state more than $1 million in denied claims in fiscal 2018.
Officials also estimate about $2.5 million in cost-avoidance by automating the system. Administering the CMA program cost $267,589 in 2018; whereas a paper process is estimated to have cost $2.7 million.
The current 18-month agreement ends in December. A proposed one-year agreement would extend the program through December 2021.
USCIS and the California Department of Health Care Services
Similarly to how USCIS data is used to verify eligibility for unemployment benefits, the state of California uses a matching agreement for its Medicaid programs. The program costs between $6.3 million and $7 million a year to manage, while saving an estimated $414 million annually.
The current 18-month agreement is set to be replaced by a one-year agreement when it expires in December 2020.
USCIS and the California Department of Social Services
The state of California also matches citizenship data against two social services programs: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The program is estimated to have saved $19.9 million through “reductions, denials and discontinuances of benefits” since the first agreement in 2013.
The previous 18-month agreement expired in January 2020. A one-year CMA was proposed but the documents do not state whether an agreement had been reached at the time of publication.