FBI spent millions in healthcare money on terrorism

Sunday, June 19, 2005

WASHINGTON -- If it appears that the FBI has not been as active in its recent efforts to root out healthcare fraud, there's a good reason.

Over the past three years, the FBI spent roughly $300 million fighting terrorism -- not healthcare fraud as Congress intended, according to a May report issued by the Government Accountability Office.

The money came from an account in the Medicare trust fund.

The bureau was unable to show that it had used the money for the intended purpose, the report said, noting that FBI agents "previously devoted to health care fraud investigations were shifted to counterterrorism activities" in the last three years, the New York Times reported.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who requested the study, said, "It's inexcusable that the government cannot account for millions of dollars set aside to fight health care fraud."

Grassley, the chairman of the Finance Committee, which has authority over Medicare and Medicaid, said the FBI and its parent agency, the Justice Department, "have an obligation to taxpayers to make sure that money directed to fighting health care fraud is, in fact, used to fight health care fraud."

The auditors said the FBI and the Justice Department needed tighter controls over the use of money earmarked for health care investigations. The agencies agreed, the Times reported.

Joseph Ford, the bureau's chief financial officer, said the Sept. 11 attacks "demanded an instant, 100 percent commitment toward counterterrorism," and he recalled that "almost every FBI agent in the world" had been required to work on those cases.

But, he said, the bureau is again focusing on health care fraud, "one of its top white-collar criminal investigative priorities."