WASHINGTON, DC (March 31, 2021) – As the nation enters its second year of the pandemic, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is making 28 new recommendations. GAO urges immediate action on these, as well as 38 of 44 prior recommendations that have not been fully implemented from previous CARES Act reports. Full implementation of these recommendations would strengthen the federal government’s efforts to improve public health and the economy, as well as address program integrity and fraud issues.
GAO is issuing its sixth comprehensive report examining the ongoing implementation of the CARES Act and other relief measures in response to our nation’s continued effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want the government’s pandemic relief programs to be as effective and transparent as possible, and implementing our recommendations can greatly improve the federal response,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “Our recommendations are focused on improving public health and economic recovery efforts and reducing fraud and overpayments.”
Agencies were generally responsive to our new recommendations. As Congress and the administration continue to take action in response to the pandemic, we have outlined new areas for action and provided status updates where challenges remain:
Small Business Loan Fraud. Since March 2020, the Department of Justice has been announcing charges in numerous fraud-related cases associated with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program. To mitigate fraud risks, GAO is recommending that the Small Business Administration:
- Conduct and document a fraud risk assessment for the EIDL and PPP programs
- Develop a comprehensive oversight plan that looks for fraud risks in the EIDL program
- Develop a strategy for how to address those risks in the EIDL program
- Outline specific actions for how to monitor and manage PPP fraud risks on an ongoing basis
Unemployment Overpayments. As of March 2021, more than $3.6 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) overpayments from March 2020 through February 2021 have been identified by states, according to the Department of Labor (DOL). DOL implemented our recommendation to collect data on states’ recovery of PUA overpayments, but without data on the amount of overpayments waived by the states, it is unclear how much states will or will not recover. GAO is recommending that DOL collect data on how much of the PUA overpayments have been waived by states.
Collecting and Sharing Vaccine Data. Almost half of data collected from states on vaccines administered is missing the race and ethnicity of the recipient, according to Health and Human Services (HHS). GAO recommends that HHS take steps to ensure the complete reporting of race and ethnicity from state data. To improve monitoring and transparency, GAO recommends that HHS make all data related to nursing home vaccination efforts publicly available. GAO is also urging HHS to require nursing homes to offer the COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff.
Communicating Pandemic Data. HHS publishes its COVID-19 data across multiple websites, making it difficult for the public to access information on COVID-19. To improve the federal government’s communication about the pandemic to the public, GAO is suggesting HHS make all of its different sources of COVID-19 data accessible from a centralized internet location.
K-12 Education. The Department of Education has begun tracking state and school district spending on certain COVID-19 relief funds, but there is a lag between when schools use the funds and when it is reported as spent to Education. Due to this lag, policymakers are missing timely information that could be used to address pandemic-related education needs. GAO is recommending that Education regularly collect and make publicly available information on school districts’ financial commitments.
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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.