GAO Report Highlights Lack of Transparency and Accountability in Administration’s Coronavirus Response

Jun 25, 2020
Press Release
Agency Withheld “Critical” Information from Watchdog

Washington, D.C. (June 25, 2020) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, issued the following statement following the release of the Government Accountability Office’s report to Congress entitled, “COVID-19:  Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts:”

 

“Today’s GAO report comes as our nation faces the grim reality that the Trump Administration’s policies have failed to contain the coronavirus outbreak,” Chairman Clyburn stated.  “More than 120,000 Americans have died, and new infections are at record levels.  This report details how missteps led to ‘significant delays in testing,’ shortages in critical supplies, and ‘significant risk’ of fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program.  GAO has also sounded the alarm on the Administration’s efforts to stymy legitimate oversight by withholding ‘critical’ information and preventing GAO from completing its work.  This obstruction must end.”

 

The Select Subcommittee will hold a hearing tomorrow with Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to examine GAO’s findings and recommendations to improve the federal response to the coronavirus crisis.

 

Today’s report includes the following key findings:

 

On the Trump Administration’s Obstruction of GAO

 

  • “Congress has charged SBA with implementing the PPP and other provisions crucial to the nation’s economic recovery.  However, SBA to date has failed to provide information critical to our review, including a detailed description of data on loans made.  The agency provided primarily publicly available information in response to our inquiries.”

 

  • “Although we requested information on the [Strategic National Stockpile] inventory prior to the pandemic, the types and amounts of supplies that states requested, as well as what ASPR and FEMA distributed from the SNS in response to states’ requests, HHS and FEMA had not provided this information as of June 12, 2020.”

 

On the Paycheck Protection Program

 

  • “Because of the number of loans approved, the speed with which they were processed, and the limited safeguards, there is a significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved.”

 

  • “[T]he limited safeguards and lack of timely and complete guidance and oversight planning have increased the likelihood that borrowers may misuse or improperly receive loan proceeds.  For example, while SBA planned to review loans of more than $2 million, as of June 15, 2020, it had not provided details on how it planned to carry out that work, and it had not provided information on oversight plans for the more than 4 million loans of less than $2 million each.”

 

On Testing

 

  • “In early February, the sole FDA-authorized COVID-19 viral test was deployed by CDC to state public health laboratories, and it experienced accuracy and reliability issues that resulted in significant delays in testing nationwide during the critical early weeks of the outbreak.”

 

  • “Furthermore, the absence of complete and consistent COVID-19 testing data reported through May 31, 2020, has made it more difficult to track and know the number of infections, mitigate their effects, and inform decisions on reopening communities.”

 

On Personal Protective Equipment

 

  • “[F]ederal, state, and local officials have expressed concerns about the distribution, acquisition, and adequacy of supplies.”

 

  • “The nationwide need for critical supplies to respond to COVID-19 quickly exceeded the quantity of supplies contained in the Strategic National Stockpile, which is designed to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies.”

 

  • “Findings from a 2019 pandemic planning exercise conducted by HHS’s ASPR in conjunction with multiple federal agencies, states, and stakeholders highlighted concerns about supply availability, as well as the SNS more generally, even before the emergence of COVID-19.  For example, ASPR’s findings noted that domestic manufacturing capacity would be unable to meet the demands for personal protective equipment and other supplies in the event of a global influenza pandemic.”

 

  • “In response to the findings from the 2019 exercise, ASPR recommended several actions . . . .  HHS officials told us that the department had been unable to take action to address these recommendations prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

 

Click here to read GAO’s report.

 

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116th Congress