WASHINGTON. Federal workers face serious risks during the coronavirus pandemic, such as guarding prisoners, delivering mail, or caring for patients. But telework also led to problems, such as delays in processing millions of paper tax returns or potentially revealing national secrets to hackers.
Just spend $ 2.2 trillion as fast as Congress pointed out in response to a pandemic that opened the door to waste, fraud, and abuse.
These are some of the potential problems that a group of inspectors warned federal agencies to avoid. 92-page report on Wednesday titled “Key Challenges for Federal Agencies: Covid-19 Emergency Response and Response.”
“Part of our mandate is not only to identify waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement, but also to hope that this does not happen at the forefront,” said the US TODAY Executive Director of the Inspectors General Group called the Pandemic Responsibility Committee retaliation by Robert Westbrooks. “This is a roadmap for agency leaders and politicians to help them solve some common problems.”
Congress created a committee of 20 inspectors general to track the response to the pandemic due to the unprecedented size and speed of response to the pandemic.
“Inspectors general continue to conduct aggressive independent oversight of more than $ 2.4 trillion in emergency expenses for the response to the coronavirus,” said Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Department of Justice and acting committee chairman.
Dispute over surveillance
Just a few weeks after funding was approved, a dispute arose over the degree of oversight. Pandemic Accountability Committee set up website pandemic.oversight.gov Provide information on how pandemic funds are being spent.
But the commission notified lawmakers in a letter dated June 11 that the Ministry of Finance and the White House Office of Budget and Management claim that the requirements of the transparency law do not apply to spending of $ 1.1 trillion, including $ 670 billion for small loans business and $ 454 billion for loan guarantees and investments in business and local governments.
If the programs are not publicly accountable, this may raise questions about the general spending inspectors, Horowitz and Westbrooks reported to the leading legislators about government oversight and spending committees.
Finance Minister Stephen Mnuchin declined to disclose List of companies that have received loans for small businesses. But Mnuchin said on Monday on Twitter what he will discuss with lawmakers on how to achieve “the right balance for proper oversight.”
Member of the House of Representatives of the Oversight and Reform Committee Carolyn Maloney, Dr. New York, said the administration seemed to argue over loopholes after stating strong support for inspectors general.
“It seems they are saying one thing, but doing the exact opposite” Maloney said in a statement on Monday“If the Trump administration seeks full cooperation and transparency with taxpayer dollars, it is unclear why it creates legal loopholes in order not to respond to requests for legal oversight.”
The Trump administration has ousted four inspectors general since early April, usually after saying that the president had lost confidence in each of them.
Steve Linick who was investigated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for possible abuse of personnel, as well as for a deal with Saudi Arabia regarding a weapon, was removed on May 15. The removal of Christie Grimm on May 1 followed her report to the Department of Health and Human Services about the shortage of critical medical supplies and personnel during the pandemic.
Glenn Fine was removed on April 7 as the acting inspector of the Department of Defense, which prevented his appointment to lead the Accountability Committee in response to the pandemic. Michael Atkinson, who notified Congress of the applicant’s complaint against Ukraine, which led to the impeachment of Trump, was deleted on April 3 as an inspector for the intelligence community.
Westbrooks told the US TODAY that the inspectors general did not encounter any problems in obtaining agency data for inspections and investigations. According to him, the committee is “fast moving to design and build” equipment for publishing data on recipients of funds for restoration.
“This is our mandate, and we are moving forward with all the necessary speed in this regard,” Westbrooks said. “If and when we run into obstacles, we will inform the administration and Congress.”
Congress approved funding in four pieces of legislation that responded to the health crisis and, when the economy stopped, to cope with the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. In April, the economy lost 20 million jobs, and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%.
The largest spending bill provided $ 2.2 trillion on March 27, including $ 1,200 in payments to individual taxpayers, $ 349 billion in forgiveness loans for small businesses, $ 150 billion in grants to state and local governments, and $ 500 billion in guarantees on loans and investments in business, as well as local government.
Another 321 billion dollars. The United States was approved on April 24 for lending to small businesses and financing health care providers.
The first law included 8.3 billion dollars. US for public health measures March 4. A measure to increase unemployment benefits and paid sick leave was approved on March 18.
The report suggested several areas in which problems could arise, including when federal workers should continue to report at their workplaces, problems with working from home, and difficulty tracking costs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs medical facilities, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates hospitals and nursing homes, each had to cope with a lack of personal protective equipment.
The Prison Bureau has 160,000 prisoners, 61,000 prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing, and 40,000 staff who are fighting “serious problems” maintaining good health and hygiene, the report said.
The General Services Administration, which manages state-owned real estate, had 963 cases of confirmed or suspected coronavirus in federal buildings by May 7, the report said.
More than 1000 US Postal Workers The report said the virus was positive and had many deaths. The report says that staff shortages can lead to delays in delivery.
If federal workers become sick, services can be affected across government in areas where staffing problems have already occurred. The Transportation Security Administration, which checks passengers and their luggage, spent $ 75 million to train 9,000 officers in 2017, but about 20% remained for six months, the report said. Customs and border services have consistently dropped below hiring targets in hard-to-reach spots, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office from 2019 to the pandemic.
“Public health is paramount,” Westbrooks said. “This is a serious problem.”
Telework also creates problems as more and more employees work from home. According to estimates by the Internal Revenue Service, on April 25, 13.6 million paper tax returns from legal entities and individuals remained unprocessed, and 10 million mail items were not opened, the report said.
The report said that violations of government computer systems could reveal personal information and jeopardize national security. “These problems are exacerbated by the pandemic,” the report said.
Keeping track of how money is spent is an administrative issue. The small business administration must ensure that loans are provided to qualified recipients for the right reasons. According to a November report from the inspector general, the Ministry of Agriculture had records “that were not accurate, timely, or of good quality” before it received an additional $ 35.8 billion. USA to help with a pandemic.
But the report also noted bright spots. The report said that the Ministry of Transport quickly distributed $ 36 billion, including $ 25 billion from the Federal Transit Administration and about $ 1 billion to Amtrak, to prevent, prepare and respond to this pandemic.
Westbrooks said the initial report provided an overview of potential problem areas and how inspector generals coordinated their activities to report them.
“We are at the forefront, a world-class supervisory office, to ensure accountability at historical levels of funding, and we are doing this in the middle of a global pandemic,” he said. “We have eyes and ears on every corner of the department.”
This article originally appeared in the USA TODAY: Coronavirus: watchdog timers track costs of $ 2.4 trillion to prevent loss and abuse