Federal watchdog calls out transparency issues in pandemic spending

A committee established to ensure transparency around government spending related to COVID-19 found that federal agencies failed to provide clear reporting on how they were spending billions of dollars.

The report also suggested legislative amendments to provide additional independent oversight of the PRAC-maintained website and agency submissions.

NOTE: This article first appeared on FCW.com.

Federal agencies failed in some cases to provide clear and consistent transparency around their use of pandemic-related funds provided through economic relief efforts related to COVID-19, according to a new report.

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), which was established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, published the report this week after the bill and other relief measures provided over $5 trillion in economic support for the government's response to the pandemic.

Agencies were inconsistent in their reporting on how COVID-related funds were awarded to prime recipients and subrecipients, and provided unclear project descriptions on PandemicOversight.gov, a public website maintained by PRAC. The CARES Act requires agencies to report COVID-spending for awards over $150,000 on the PRAC website.

PRAC identified over 360 awards on the site which featured "brief and non-descriptive award descriptions" like "CARES" or "COVID-19." The award descriptions and lack of comprehensive information made it difficult for users to understand where the funds were being awarded and for what purposes, according to the report.

The report identified more than $30 billion in awards that were not adequately described – which comes to about 0.6% of the spending covered by PRAC.

While COVID-related funding was tracked at the prime recipient level, the award also found that the public website failed to definitively track supplemental spending at the sub-recipient level. At least 71 of the top 100 grant listings with the largest COVID-19 related obligations failed to definitively track that funding down to the sub-recipient level, according to the report.

The report called on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to offer additional resources for agencies which provide clarity around award descriptions and focus on improving agency submissions to make them more consistent and comprehensive.

OMB largely agreed with the recommendations provided by PRAC in its response to the report, and noted steps that had already been taken to address the lack of transparency around COVID spending, including plans to complete specific actions in coordination with the accountability committee within the next year.

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