More than 900 cases alleging that government contractors and drugmakers have defrauded taxpayers out of billions of dollars are languishing in a backlog that has built up over the past decade because the Justice Department cannot keep pace with the surge in charges brought by whistleblowers,The Washington Post reports.
The issue is drawing renewed interest among lawmakers and nonprofit groups because many of the cases involve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising health care payouts, and privatization of government functions - all of which offer rich new opportunities to swindle taxpayers, the Post writes.
Since 2001, 300 to 400 civil cases have been filed each year by employees charging their companies defrauded the government. But under the cumbersome process that governs these cases, Justice Department lawyers must review them under seal, and whistleblowers routinely wait 14 months or longer just to learn whether the department will get involved. The government rejects about three-quarters of the cases it receives, saying that the vast majority have little merit.
Disputes can stay buried for years while allegations are investigated. "Even if no new cases are filed, it might take 10 years for the Department of Justice to clear its desk. Cases in the backlog represent a lot of money being left on the table," Patrick Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud, which is backed by law firms and advocates for more government funding to pursue cases, tells the paper.
In recent years, verdicts and settlements have returned nearly $13 billion to the US government, the Post writes. Among the largest such cases to date is a $650 million settlement earlier this year with Merck over Medicaid rebates, and a $515 million deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb to cover illegal drug pricing and marketing.
By its own account, the 75-lawyer unit in Washington that reviews the sensitive lawsuits is overloaded and understaffed. Only about 100 cases a year are investigated by the team, which works out of the commercial litigation branch of Justice's civil division.
Hat tip to Pharmagossip
pic thx to katerha on flickr