The Environmental Working Group led the way with its FOIA request to get farm payment data from FSA and putting the data up on the Internet. News organizations are following the precedent--here is a CBS report from Florida spotlighting FSA payments made to dead persons. They matched data from the SSA's death index to payment data from EWG's database to identify such cases.
I find the matching interesting because one of the conditions under which USDA provided the data was that social security numbers were replaced in the data by constructed numbers, meaning EWG doesn't have social security numbers. But, given the advances in computing it was presumably easy enough for CBS to match using name and address from EWG's files to the name and address from SSA's files--they got along without the SSN.
There's some misinformation in the article--notably when an EWG type compares making welfare payments to a dead person with making farm payments to a dead person. The comparison is invalid, because the farm payment goes with the land, not the person. And I wonder how many cases there are of the heirs leaving an estate open just out of inertia and procrastination. As usual the media and critics make things seem simpler than the reality is, at least the reality seen by a good bureaucrat. But the bottom line is, if FSA doesn't follow its rules, people should be able to find out. And if people think the rules are wrong, then in a democracy they can get them changed.
Under the Obama adminstration's open government initiatives, I'd like to see FSA put up its own database, including all the data it gives to EWG, plus the matching to SSA's files. Of course, that would take resources FSA doesn't have, so maybe it's better to out-source this stuff to EWG and the media.