The pen of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sits on a table prior to the signing ceremony of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act at the U.S. Capitol on March 27 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
A congressional agency office said Friday that it is ready to help combat fraud as funds from the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package known as the CARES Act are doled out and has set up several systems for people to report waste, fraud or abuse as the emergency funds are disbursed.
The Government Accountability Office, which is required by the historic bill to conduct oversight of programs covered by Congress' three coronavirus-related relief bills, is urging private citizens, government workers, contractors and others to report allegations of fraud through its hotlines -- by phone at 1-800-424-5454, email at email@example.com or by going directly to its website, gao.gov/fraudnet.
"It's very important that people understand as they become aware of [potential fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement], that there is an avenue for them to report that to officials so that the appropriate action can be taken to deal with it," said Howard Arp, director of investigations for forensic audits and investigative service at GAO, which is the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump ousted Glenn A. Fine from his position as acting inspector general for the Defense Department. Fine was slated to lead the new, independent Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which was recreated by the CARES Act to monitor how federal funds from the legislation are being spent, and was disqualified from doing so following Trump's decision.
Details of how GAO and PRAC will interact are not yet clear, but Arp said that coordinating with inspectors general when necessary is standard practice for GAO.
Others in the independent watchdog community said additional oversight of how the legislation is being executed may be necessary.
"This is a piece of what's going to be the most unprecedented relief and recovery effort ever pursued by ... the federal government," said Sean Moulton, a senior policy analyst at the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. "[S]o I think it needs an unprecedented level of accountability and oversight."
Moulton also said that Congress may need to create additional structures to ensure the CARES Act is being carried out properly. He said it's likely that standing committees will oversee certain aspects of the bill, but that coordination between those committees needs to be established to make sure parts of the bill aren't being overlooked.
Moulton added that lawmakers will need to evaluate how implementation of the CARES Act is going over the coming weeks and making necessary adjustments in future legislation.
Jennifer Ahearn, policy director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, another government watchdog group, echoed the sentiment that additional oversight from Congress may be necessary.
"I think that sustained attention from members of Congress is really what's going to be the driving factor behind success or failure of oversight of [CARES Act funds]," Ahearn said.
She said that if forms of oversight written into the relief bill are not enough or not functioning properly, "Congress will have to go back to the drawing board" and make changes to the legislation.
Getting these oversight structures functioning properly is especially important as Congress is likely to pass additional relief legislation, Ahearn said.