Press Release GAO Makes 16 New Recommendations to Strengthen the Government’s Pandemic Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 27, 2021) – With the spread of the Delta variant, rising numbers of coronavirus cases over the summer hampered efforts to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Government Accountability Office’s eighth comprehensive report on COVID relief under the CARES Act, released today, notes progress in such areas as vaccinations, but underscores the need for significant attention in key areas. GAO makes 16 new recommendations to help improve the U.S. response to the current pandemic and better position the nation to act in the future. The government must remain vigilant and agile to address the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and its cascading impacts. Furthermore, as the administration implements the provisions in the COVID-19 relief laws, the size and scope of these efforts—from distributing funding to implementing new programs—demand strong accountability and oversight.

“The progress in vaccinating the country is heartening, but GAO’s review makes clear how much remains to be done to help the nation fully rebound from the pandemic,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “If swiftly and effectively implemented, GAO’s new and previous suggestions can help support the recovery and put us in a stronger position to deal with future health emergencies.”

GAO’s new suggestions include the following key areas:

Relief for Health Care Providers

A total of $178 billion has been appropriated to the Provider Relief Fund to reimburse eligible providers for healthcare–related expenses or lost revenues due to COVID-19.  GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has not established timeframes to ensure that agency oversight keeps pace with the distribution of funds. GAO urges HRSA to establish timeframes for completing post-payment audits to promptly address identified risks and identify overpayments made from the Fund, such as payments made in incorrect amounts or payments to ineligible providers.  HRSA also needs to finalize procedures and implement post-payment recovery of any overpayments, unused payments, or payments not properly used.

Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds

In March 2021, the Treasury Department was appropriated $350 billion for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF), which allocates money to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories to cover a broad range of costs stemming from the fiscal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Treasury had distributed about $240 billion as of the end of August, but it has not yet finalized or documented key internal processes and control activities to monitor recipients’ use of their CSLFRF allocations and to respond to internal control and compliance findings. As a result, key control activities are needed to help ensure program management fulfills its recipient monitoring and oversight responsibilities. GAO recommends that Treasury develop timely and sufficient policies and procedures to ensure that recipients are managing their allocations in accordance with laws, regulations, agency guidance, and award terms and conditions.

Unemployment Insurance Fraud Risk Management

GAO continues to have concerns about potential fraud in the unemployment insurance program.  Although the Department of Labor continues to identify and implement strategies to address potential fraud and has some program integrity activities underway, it has not comprehensively assessed fraud risks in alignment with leading practices. GAO recommends that Labor designate a dedicated entity to oversee fraud risk management activities and document its responsibilities for assessing fraud risks to the unemployment insurance program, consistent with leading practices cited in GAO’s Fraud Risk Framework. This entity should have clearly defined and documented responsibilities and authority for managing fraud risk assessments and for facilitating communication among stakeholders about fraud-related issues.

Worker Safety and Health

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has faced challenges in enforcing workplace safety and health standards during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has not assessed lessons learned or promising practices. Inspectors from area offices indicated they faced challenges related to resources and to communication and guidance, such as a lack of timely guidance from OSHA headquarters. GAO recommends that OSHA assess—as soon as feasible and, as appropriate, periodically thereafter—various challenges related to resources and to communication and guidance that the agency has faced in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and take action as warranted.

So far, six relief laws, including the CARES Act, have been enacted to address the public health and economic threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  As of the end of August, the federal government had obligated $3.9 trillion and expended $3.4 trillion of the $4.8 trillion appropriated for COVID-19 relief. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the pandemic.

For more information, please contact Chuck Young, Managing Director of Public Affairs, at YoungC1@gao.gov or (202) 512-4800.

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The Government Accountability Office, known as the investigative arm of Congress, is an independent, nonpartisan agency that exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities. GAO also works to improve the performance of the federal government and ensure its accountability to the American people. The agency examines the use of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO provides Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonideological, fair, and balanced. GAO’s commitment to good government is reflected in its core values of accountability, integrity, and reliability.  

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GAO Makes PTAC Appointments

WASHINGTON, DC (October 18, 2021) – Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), today announced the appointment of three new members to the Physician-Focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee (PTAC).