Senior officials from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told senators on March 17 that there’s still plenty of need for continuing oversight of Federal government pandemic-related spending, and offered suggestions on how to accomplish that task.
To combat the COVID-19 pandemic and provide relief to the millions impacted by the public health crisis, Congress approved trillions in new spending through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other measures.
At a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, government witnesses offered testimony on how the Federal government should go about reducing relief-related fraud, and expand access to relief.
Jason Miller, Deputy Director of Management for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), said the implementation of ARP and other pandemic relief efforts helped jumpstart the economic recovery, but also revealed cracks in under-resourced benefits delivery systems.
“The 53 different unemployment insurance (UI) systems run by states and territories were overwhelmed by the historic surge of claims that jammed their underfunded and outdated IT architecture resulting in backlogs and a rise in improper payments including fraud and as the pandemic disproportionately harmed underserved communities,” said Miller. “Early relief efforts often failed to reach those most need.”
To address these challenges, Miller said that the White House is “focused on delivering timely relief to the intended beneficiaries while strengthening government’s ability to act as a trustworthy steward of taxpayer funds.”
Speaking on behalf of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that he heads, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro testified that improvements are needed to ensure transparency and accountability.
“Trade-offs were made … in ensuring transparency and accountability over this money,” said Dodaro. “Controls that should have been in place before payments were made were either reduced or eliminated. Also, monitoring efforts, payment reviews, and other efforts weren’t instituted as fast as possible.”
GAO has made 271 recommendations and five suggestions for congressional consideration that involve pandemic relief work. GAO on March 17 also identified 10 matters for Congress to consider for enhancing transparency and accountability of Federal spending.
“Congress can take a number of actions right now to significantly improve accountability and transparency over Federal spending in both nonemergency and emergency situations,” said Dodaro. “Going forward, these reforms will help the Federal government avoid many of the pitfalls seen in the COVID-19 response.”
Some of GAO’s recommendations include:
- Requiring OMB to provide guidance to Federal agencies to develop plans for better internal controls;
- Establishing a permanent analytics center of excellence to help the oversight community better identify improper payments and fraud;
- Making changes to the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019;
- Clarifying that Federal agency chief financial officers have oversight responsibility for internal controls over financial reporting and key financial management information that includes spending data and improper payment information; and
- Amending the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA) Act to extend the requirement that agency inspectors general review the completeness, timeliness, quality, and accuracy of their respective agency data submissions to USAspending.gov on a periodic basis.