MIL-OSI USA: GAO’s Latest COVID Relief Report Makes 15 New Recommendations on Improper Payments, Public Health Data Collection, and Critical Manufacturing

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Source: US Government Accountability Office

WASHINGTON, DC (April 27, 2022)— As the country enters its third year of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is making new recommendations to reduce improper payments in COVID-19 programs and improve public health data collection. Those recommendations can be found in GAO’s 10th comprehensive report on the nation’s COVID-19 relief efforts under the CARES Act, which the agency is releasing today.

“While we have seen some progress, the country still needs to focus on both the remaining public health and economic implications of the pandemic. Our recommendations are intended to address these remaining challenges,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “It is important that federal agencies continue to implement GAO’s COVID recommendations to improve the overall government response moving forward.”

GAO is making 15 new recommendations for federal agencies and raising one new matter for congressional consideration to make improvements in these and other areas:

Improper Payments in COVID-19 Programs

The Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 defines an improper payment as any payment that should not have been made or was made in an incorrect amount. Improper payments are a pervasive and growing problem in regular programs across the federal government. For fiscal year 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported that federal agencies had estimated about $281 billion in improper payments, which was an increase of about $75 billion from the prior fiscal year and approximately double the amount reported in fiscal year 2017.

Improper payments also have been a significant concern in pandemic spending, especially among the largest programs, such as unemployment insurance and small business loans. We made a number of recommendations in our March 17 testimony to address improper payments in emergency relief spending, including a stronger CFO role. This report also includes recommendations related to better measuring and addressing improper payments. For instance, we recommend that OMB require agencies to certify the reliability of submitted improper payment data.

Public Health Data Collection

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Data Modernization Initiative aims to improve data collection, information sharing, and surveillance to prepare for future public health threats. However, the agency has not outlined specific actions, time frames, or allocation of roles and responsibilities needed to achieve those future objectives. GAO recommends that CDC define specific action steps and time frames for the agency’s data modernization efforts in its strategic implementation plan.

Critical Manufacturing

GAO recommends that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) assess and document lessons learned from the pandemic’s impacts on the U.S. critical manufacturing sector. CISA is the lead agency responsible for coordinating security and resilience efforts to respond to the pandemic’s impact on critical manufacturing, including shipments of goods, and increased cybersecurity vulnerability in critical infrastructure systems and assets. 

Manufacturing industry representatives have cited a lessons-learned analysis as a high-priority need, and CISA has collected some information on the pandemic’s impacts on that sector that could be leveraged in the analysis. However, no plans for the analysis have been finalized as of February 2022.

With this latest report, GAO’s oversight of COVID-19 relief has produced 279 recommendations—61 of which have been fully implemented—and raised 15 matters for congressional consideration.

For more information, contact Chuck Young at 202-512-4800 or youngc1@gao.gov.

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The Government Accountability Office, known as the investigative arm of Congress, is an independent, non-partisan 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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