The vigorous inspection of the Biden administration by House Republicans started on Wednesday, focusing on what watchdogs have dubbed “indications of rampant fraud” in federal coronavirus relief programs created under President Donald Trump.
Republicans in Congress claimed that when Democrats were in power, the issues were not given enough attention. Democrats attributed a large portion of the problem to the Trump administration.
More than 1,000 people have admitted guilt to federal charges of scamming the numerous COVID-19 relief programs that Congress established in the early stages of the epidemic or have been found guilty on those charges.
More than 600 additional people and organizations are charged with federal fraud.
But investigators who testified during the House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s first hearing of the new Congress on fraud and waste in government pandemic funding claimed this was just the beginning.
Beginning in March 2020, when Trump was president, Congress approved spending totaling nearly $4.6 trillion from six coronavirus relief legislation.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the committee’s leader, said, “We owe it to the American people to uncover the worst fraud of American public funds in history.
The Government Accountability Office’s Gene L. Dodaro informed Congress that it would take some time to determine the entire scope of the scam.
The Small Business Administration’s inspector general is looking into more than 500 loan programs created to assist companies with operating costs during the pandemic.
At least 100 new inquiries into fraud involving unemployment benefits are still opened each week by the internal watchdog of the Labor Department.
The GAO claimed that one indicator of its scale was the more than 1,000 convictions connected to the COVID-19 relief scheme.
There are unmistakable signs of massive fraud, but it is currently hard to predict their entire scope, according to Dodaro.
According to a GAO investigation from December, extrapolating Labor Department data would indicate that more than $60 billion in illegal unemployment insurance payments occurred in just that one program during the pandemic.
According to the GAO, a similar extrapolation has inherent limits and should be taken with care.
However, lawmakers are interested in knowing how much theft has occurred and what might be done to prevent it in future calamities.
Comer added that to prevent it from happening again, “we must determine where this money went, how much ended up in the hands of fraudsters or ineligible participants, and what should be done.”
Twenty inspectors general collaborate to look at spending on pandemic relief.
According to Michael Horowitz, chair of the committee that Congress established in March 2020 to oversee COVID-19 expenditure, data analysis is essential for spotting fraud.
For instance, the committee issued a fraud alert this week on the use of shady Social Security numbers to secure $5.4 billion in grants and loans related to the pandemic. He said that a group of data scientists examined tens of millions of applications to determine whether or not they accurately matched the Social Security Administration’s records.
According to Horowitz, who is also the inspector general for the Justice Department, “almost 69,000 didn’t.” This kind of sophisticated data analytics is revolutionizing oversight.
The necessity to distribute funds to individuals and companies as soon as feasible was one of the leading contributing causes to the COVID fraud that took place. According to Horowitz, organizations must determine if applicants are eligible before disbursing funds, but the Small Business Administration permitted applicants for the Paycheck Protection Program to self-certify their eligibility.
According to him, approximately 57,000 applicants on the federal government’s do-not-pay list received $3.6 billion as a result, and the SBA “did not care to cross-check” that list.
Some of the Biden administration’s most vociferous detractors and fervent supporters are members of the House committee, which wants to look into several contentious matters. The conflicting viewpoints were clear.
Comer added, “This committee has for far too long watched as taxpayer monies were frittered away by bureaucrats whose only concern is getting money out the door.”
The COVID relief programs “were by no means flawless,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the committee, but they contributed to the shortest economic slump in history.
He charged that the Trump administration was responsible for much of the fraud. The massive surge in demand for assistance, he claimed, was abused by organized criminals and fraudsters, and the issue was made worse by policies “that hampered” the government’s monitoring.
Raskin claimed that the Trump administration frequently instructed agencies to disregard the need for data reporting.
According to Horowitz, most frauds happened in three programs that received cash totaling roughly $2 trillion: loan programs for small firms and state-run unemployment insurance schemes.