According to a report by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), efforts to monitor the many billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief spending have been hampered by a systemic lack of transparency within those organizations.
The beginning of the report notes that:
“In March 2020 the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) to promote transparency and conduct and support oversight of pandemic-related funds and the response to the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
The objective of this review was to identify specific gaps in transparency in award data for federal assistance spending in response to COVID-19. We conducted the review in accordance with the Quality Standards for Inspection and Evaluation issued by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE)”
In other words, PRAC was created to monitor the transparency of what funds were awarded by whom and to whom as part of the $5 trillion Covid-19 relief packages.
What did it find?
That “It’s hard to know where pandemic relief money went,” and that “It’s even harder for us to tell you what it was used for. Government award data is full of dead ends.”
The report tells of amounts of rulebreaking a near-complete lack of transparency. Agencies did not consistently follow instructions from the Office of Management and the Budget (OMB). Agencies were not transparent in reporting who received funds from them. The “prime recipients” that received large grants of funds did not properly disclose or report what sub-recipients received those funds.
In PRAC’s words:
“We identified gaps in subrecipient reporting data by cross-referencing other authoritative sources of spending data, such as states’ financial reports and federal and state agency websites. We found that, on average, only 59% of prime recipients are reporting any subrecipient data across the ten grant programs with the largest COVID-19 obligations.”
Furthermore, a report titled “Dead Ends in Pandemic Relief Award Data” reports that PRAC found a complete lack of transparency around hundreds of billions of dollars of funds. Here’s what it says:
We looked at 51,000 awards worth $347 billion that supported the pandemic response (as of June 15, 2021). We found more than 15,400 awards worth $33 billion with meaningless descriptions that make it difficult to know how the money was used. For example:
- 12,600 awards use descriptions that just repeat the name of the program, like “Community Development Block Grants/Entitlement Grants”
- 2,500 awards are described using only technical jargon that the public or policymakers can’t understand, like “CCC5-2021”
- 360 awards list variations of pandemic-related relief legislation, like “CARES ACT”.
Hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money are unaccounted for, those who shelled out the money having included only vague descriptions or technical jargon to describe where billions in funds went.
That same report summary also highlights some other “dead ends” in finding out Covid relief funds went, reporting:
- Federal agencies track pandemic response awards to “prime recipients” (like a state), but the prime recipient often distributes most of its money to subrecipients (like a school district) to spend. Prime recipients report their subrecipient award information in a different system that doesn’t distinguish between an award used to respond to the pandemic versus a non-pandemic award. They’re all lumped in the same general category.
- Some prime recipients didn’t report data on awards to subrecipients. For example, California distributed more than 1,600 awards to subrecipients from the Education Stabilization Fund. These awards are all listed on the state’s website but are missing from USASpending.gov. We can’t tell if that money has even been spent yet, let alone tell the public what it was used for.
All in all, the report shows that the agencies and states in charge of distributing the funding either did so incompetently or purposefully non-transparently, hiding the truth about hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars of relief funds.
PRAC’s concerning report comes at a time of other concerns about how pandemic funds have been spent. The art gallery representing Hunter Biden received “nearly $80,000 in two payments in April 2020 and February 2021 under the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program,” for example, and hundreds of millions of dollars in relief funds ended up in the hands of CCP-connected businesses.