GovWatch: Want your state tax refund? You may have to take a quiz

Ohio taxpayers may have to take an online quiz to prove who they are before getting their refund checks this year as the state tries to battle identity theft-related tax fraud that has exploded into a quarter-billion dollar problem.

Think of it like a game show where, if you win, you get money the state owes you but if you lose, you have to fill out a ton more paperwork.

The online quiz will give people five minutes to answer four questions that are designed so no one else would know the answer. You’ll need to get three right to get your refund. State tax officials say they have made accommodations for people who don’t have computers or internet access at home.

“We have to stay a step ahead of the would-be thieves and block refunds from going out to people they shouldn’t go to,” said Ohio Tax Commissioner Joe Testa in an interview with the I-Team.

The I-Team in November first reported that the state intercepted 58,000 fraudulent returns worth a combined $257 million in six months of 2014 — a dizzying increase from 10,000 fraudulent returns seeking $8 million in a similar period in 2013.

In addition to costing the state about $6 million, this and other fraud-fighting efforts will likely delay returns for millions of Ohioans, according to taxation officials.

Not all taxpayers will have to take the test. But the ones we spoke to aren’t looking forward to hearing “Come on down!” – “That’s outrageous, it really is,” said area resident Carson Edwards.

Top brass expands at DOD

The number of people working in headquarters positions in the U.S. Department of Defense increased dramatically since 2001, and despite direction to cut back these jobs the Pentagon hasn’t even come up with a starting point, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Federal auditors found, for example, that Army staff increased 60 percent to 3,693 in 2013 from 2,272 in 2001. On the plus side, this is lower than the 3,712 people working in Army top brass positions in 2011. But the bad news is the Army hadn’t even assessed how many people they need in these jobs, the report found.

The GAO also notes that statutory personnel limits were put on these budgets in the 1980s and 1990s, but have been regularly waived since 2002. If they were in place, the Army and Navy would exceed them by 17 percent and 74 percent, respectively.

This, despite direction in 2013 from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reduce headquarters budgets by 20 percent through 2019.

“Without a systematic determination of personnel requirements and periodic reassessment of them, DOD will not be well positioned to proactively identify efficiencies and limit personnel growth within these headquarters organizations,” the report concluded.

Border patrol over-spends for employee housing

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol vastly overpaid for an elaborate employee housing project in remote Ajo, Ariz., according to a report this month from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General.

The 21 singe-family homes cost an average of $680,000 each to build in an area where home prices average $86,500, the OIG found.

“This is a classic example of inadequate planning and management leading to wasteful spending,” said Inspector General John Roth in a statement. “This project could have been completed at much less cost to the taxpayers.”

The homes, built for border patrol agents working near the U.S.-Mexico border, featured quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances and three-car garages.

The report noted that Border Patrol paid three times what it should’ve for the land, and built two- and three-bedroom family style houses instead of the recommended one-bedroom apartments.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, released a statement saying the $17 million project over-spent by more than $4 million and that the homes aren’t even fully used.

“Clearly, the haphazard and possibly illegal management practices CBP made throughout this project are unacceptable,” said Portman. “CPB’s choice of housing and amenities were also much too expensive for this type of project, and those who bypassed the law in making these choices should be held accountable.”

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