There are 73 Federal Inspectors General, each working within their own agency to reduce waste and uncover fraud. Offices do work together as members of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) and on peer reviews, and they do refer cases to each other when appropriate, but the majority of their focus is directed toward internal work.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act will require a unique level of cooperation, however. The speed with which the bill was passed and the money started flowing means that there were ample opportunities to lie about your qualifications for stimulus money without raising red flags. And while we may never know how much of the money coming from that bill was fraudulently obtained, the work of dozens of IG offices will be giving us a better picture in the coming years.
New Bills, New Opportunities
The CARES bill created two new bodies to uncover fraud related to stimulus spending, each with different structures and focus. The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery is a new oversight body within the Department of the Treasury focused on stimulus money that was received or used improperly. Like other Federal IG offices, it is an independent body that reports findings directly to Congress.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) is the larger and more interesting of the two new bodies. Structured as a committee within CIGIE, PRAC was created to ensure that Federal OIGs are cooperating to provide the best oversight possible. There are currently 21 different Federal IG offices represented on the committee, which offers a new avenue for IGs to pool resources, share best practices and conduct joint investigations.
Enhancing the Blueprint
While PRAC leaders are focused on their primary goal, they also have a second one: leaving behind a blueprint for cross-agency disaster funding oversight when the next disaster comes along. In fact, they’re relying on the learnings of their predecessor agency (created during the 2007 financial crisis) to get up and running quickly. Unlike that agency, however, they have access to modern AI-based tools to evaluate large streams of data spanning multiple agencies and highlight outlier activities for further investigation. They’ve already hired a Chief Data Officer to manage these systems.
Another way to bridge the efforts of IG offices is to bring a united message to citizens. PRAC has taken an early lead in providing insight and transparency directly to citizens. Their website, PandemicRecovery.gov, provides an overview of where money went and who has been prosecuted for fraud.
All of this coordination will be necessary if the committee wants to fulfill their mission. Demonstrating the scale of the task, PRACs deputy executive director expects the final amount of CARES Act funding to be obtained fraudulently to exceed 5% of the total – that’s more than $125 billion of fradulent spending to identify, prosecute and reclaim.
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