GAO: COVID-19: Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts

Why GAO Did This Study

“The outbreak of COVID-19 quickly spread around the globe. As of June 17, 2020, the United States had over 2 million reported cases of COVID-19, and over 100,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. Parts of the nation have also seen severely strained health care systems. Also, the country has experienced a significant and rapid downturn in the economy. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of June 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. In addition, the administration created the White House Coronavirus Task Force.”

“The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This initial report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics, among other things…”

What GAO Found

“In response to the national public health and economic threats caused by COVID-19, four relief laws were enacted as of June 2020, including the CARES Act, in March 2020. These laws have appropriated $2.6 trillion across the government. Six areas—Paycheck Protection Program (PPP); Economic Stabilization and Assistance to Distressed Sectors; unemployment insurance; economic impact payments; Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund; and Coronavirus Relief Fund—account for 86 percent of the appropriations (see figure).”

“Total federal spending data are not readily available because, under Office of Management and Budget guidance, federal agencies are not directed to report COVID-19 related obligations (financial commitments) and expenditures until July 2020. It is unfortunate that the public will have waited more than 4 months since the enactment of the CARES Act for access to comprehensive obligation and expenditure information about the programs funded through these relief laws.”

“In the absence of comprehensive data, GAO collected obligation and expenditure data from agencies, to the extent practicable, as of May 31, 2020.  For the six largest spending areas, GAO found obligations totaled $1.3 trillion and expenditures totaled $643 billion. The majority of the difference was due to the PPP, for which the Small Business Administration (SBA) obligated $521 billion. The amounts for loan guarantees will not be considered expenditures until the loans are forgiven, and for those that are not forgiven, whether they are timely repaid…”

“Given the sweeping and unfolding public health and economic crisis, agencies from across the federal government were called on for immediate assistance, requiring an unprecedented level of dedication and agility among the federal workforce, including those serving on the front lines to quickly establish services for those infected with the virus. Consistent with the urgency of responding to serious and widespread health issues and economic disruptions, agencies have given priority to moving swiftly where possible to distribute funds and implement new programs. As tradeoffs were made, however, agencies have made only limited progress so far in achieving transparency and accountability goals…”

What GAO Recommends

“GAO is making 3 new recommendations for agencies and 3 matters for consideration for Congress that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report.” Access the full report here.

Source: COVID-19: Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts – June 25, 2020. GAO.

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