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Capitol Correspondence - 04.21.20

GAO Actively Auditing How Administration Spends $2.2 Trillion from CARES Act

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As Congress crafts its next COVID-19 funding package, it could be informed by the independent watchdog Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) audits currently underway. These audits have the potential to inspire hearings and confrontations between the Administration and Congress. Because ANCOR is advocating to both for the need for funds from the CARES Act to be allocated to disability supports, we are keeping our members informed of Politico Pro’s reporting on the audits below.

“Lawmakers handed President Donald Trump $2 trillion in coronavirus relief — and then left town without activating any of the powerful new oversight tools meant to hold his administration accountable.

But with little fanfare, Congress’ independent, in-house watchdog is preparing a blizzard of audits that will become the first wide-ranging check on Trump’s handling of the sprawling national rescue effort.

And even as Trump has gone to war against internal watchdogs in his administration, the Government Accountability Office remains largely out of the president’s grasp because of its home in the legislative branch.

The GAO has quickly taken advantage of its perch, exploring the early missteps inherent in launching a multitrillion-dollar law that touches every facet of American life. By the end of April, at least 30 CARES Act reviews and audits — ‘engagements,’ per GAO lingo — are expected be underway, according to interviews with senior investigators.

Topics will range from the government’s handling of coronavirus testing to its distribution of medical equipment, and from the nation’s food supply to nursing home infections and any missteps in distributing the emergency cash payments that began landing in millions of Americans’ bank accounts this week. The office’s top fraud investigator said it’s already received a complaint about a check landing in the account of a deceased person.

‘We’re moving forward very quickly,’ said Angela Nicole Clowers, chief of the GAO’s health care unit. ‘We’re an existing institution and have a lot of institutional knowledge about all these programs. It gives us sort of a leg up.’

At a time when Trump has sought to undermine nearly every independent review of his administration’s conduct, the GAO is likely to dispatch most of its 3,000 investigators, experts and analysts into an arena that could make it a target for the president’s fury. And its quiet early work could soon become very loud: The office is required under the new law to brief Congress every month and issue a bimonthly public report on its findings.

But as an independent agency that works for Congress — not the president — the GAO has far more protection from Trump. A nonpartisan entity responsive to both Democratic and Republican requests for investigations, the office is also more insulated from partisan attacks than the traditional congressional committee investigations that Trump has stonewalled to the brink of irrelevance.”