Federal Officials Discuss How to Make COVID Oversight More Effective – GovExec.com

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Courtney Bublé
The head of a pandemic watchdog testified on Thursday that an update to a Civil War era law could help his team better fight fraud and build on their success over the past two years. 

Over the past two years, Congress has approved over $5 trillion in COVID-19 relief. The White House is pressing for more after a COVID-19 supplement was stripped from the fiscal 2022 omnibus and is warning of the severe consequences if Congress doesn’t come to an agreement on it. Meanwhile, four federal officials testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday in a hearing that reflected on the last two years of spending and oversight on coronavirus relief and programs. 

“I do think we’ve been very effective in addressing this herculean task,” said Michael Horowitz, chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. “As you know when we were created back in March 2020, we were only overseeing about $2 trillion of federal funds, it grew to over $5 trillion.” Although he acknowledged did have some challenges in accessing full data and spending information from agencies as outlined in several of the committee’s reports. 

The membership of the committee – one of the three oversight entities established by the CARES Act – consists of IGs from across the government. Horowitz, who is also the Justice Department inspector general, said IGs are tasked with overseeing 426 pandemic relief programs across more than 40 agencies. The work of the committee and its partner IGs have led to 1,272 indictments and complaints, 949 arrests, and 455 convictions, he added. 

When asked by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., committee chair, what more he needs to be successful, Horowitz said enactment of the bipartisan 2021 Administrative False Claims Act “would make a difference.” 

The False Claims Act, originally enacted in 1863 during the Civil War, allows ordinary individuals to file lawsuits on behalf of the federal government in attempts to identify fraud. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a longtime advocate for whistleblowers and oversight, said last year, during the pandemic the law is more important now than ever. 

“Too often those who fraudulently divert tax dollars in amounts below what is typically accepted by prosecutors are not fully held accountable, impacting agency programs and leaving the taxpayer footing the bill,” said Horowitz in his prepared opening statement. “The legislation raises the jurisdictional limit for administrative recoveries of ‘smaller’ false or fraudulent claims against the government from $150,000 to $1,000,000.” If enacted, the modification “would extend the [committee] and the inspector general community’s ability to use this fraud-fighting tool to recover pandemic-related funds for the taxpayers.” 

The proposed law was previously endorsed by various government accountability groups, such as Empower Oversight, Government Accountability Project, National Security Counselors, National Whistleblower Center, Project on Government Oversight, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Whistleblowers of America.

Another hearing witness, Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget said “cross-cutting efforts and capabilities enabled by the [Pandemic Response Accountability Committee] warrant consideration for ongoing capabilities and it’s a model for future oversight of major investment initiatives.” Miller also serves as the chair of the President’s Management Council and executive chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. 

The two other witnesses also shared suggestions and needs for more effective oversight for the COVID-19 pandemic as well as future emergencies. 
Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office, said “shortcomings” on internal controls and financial and fraud risk management practices “were exacerbated by already existing problems in financial management of the federal management,” especially since the government has a “serious improper payment problem.” GAO estimated that from fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2021, the total government-wide improper payments totaled $2.2 trillion. 

Dodaro provided 10 suggestions to Congress on how it can address these issues, one of which includes requiring the Office of Management and Budget to give agencies guidance to develop internal controls that can be implemented immediately for emergency funding in the future and agencies to report their plans to OMB and Congress. 

Larry Turner, Labor IG whose office has been investigating the massive fraud in COVID-19 unemployment insurance programs, said a challenge his office faced was “a lack of direct access to [unemployment insurance] data,” from states. The IG office had to issue subpoenas to get this information, which he said took months and delayed their oversight efforts early on. Therefore, he outlined remedies for Congress and the Labor Department to facilitate this going forward. 
NEXT STORY: A Republican Lawmaker Wants Answers on U.S. Park Police Staffing and Facilities Upkeep 
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.
Manage Consent Preferences
Strictly Necessary Cookies – Always Active
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies
Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link
If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.
Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.
Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.
If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings

Cookie List
A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:
Strictly Necessary Cookies
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Functional Cookies
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Performance Cookies
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Sale of Personal Data
We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.
Social Media Cookies
We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.
Targeting Cookies
We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.
Help us tailor content specifically for you:

source