GAO Seeks Action on 66 COVID-Related Recommendations
Jerry Ashworth
Federal Grants Development Handbook
April 12, 2021 at 07:41:04 ET

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued 28 new recommendations ― several of which are aimed at financial assistance programs impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic ― and called for action on 38 still-to-be-implemented recommendations previously mentioned in other COVID-related GAO reports that federal agencies can take as an effective response to the public health and fiscal emergency.

Noting that the pandemic continues to result in “catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the global economy, stability and security,” GAO cited actions taken by Congress, including enacting the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Pub. L. 116-136), along with other relief packages, “to protect the health and well-being of Americans.” A provision in the CARES Act required GAO to report bimonthly on its federal efforts related to the pandemic, and it has issued six reports to date containing 44 recommendations. However, only six of these recommendations have been fully implemented.

GAO is now urging agencies to take “swift action” on its other 38 prior recommendations. In addition, a March 31 report added 28 new recommendations. “These recommendations are tailored to specific federal programs and initiatives, and, if implemented, will strengthen the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of federal efforts,” GAO said. “We will continue to monitor the status of these recommendations as part of our ongoing oversight of the federal government’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.”

New Recommendations

Among the recommendations GAO included it its recent report are some specific key concerns. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers several federal nutrition assistance programs to vulnerable populations, but had released minimal data about participation in these programs since the pandemic started, and had not publicly shared sufficient information about data quality. Therefore, according to GAO, stakeholders and the public could not access sufficient information about and were not given appropriate context in which to interpret key program data and understand the effects of the pandemic on the programs.

GAO recommended that USDA: (1) provide sufficient context to help stakeholders and the public understand and interpret data on federal nutrition assistance programs during the pandemic, and (2) disclose potential sources or errors that may affect data quality during the pandemic, such as manual processing.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers Disaster Relief Fund monies, tribal governments told GAO that FEMA did not have staff to assist them when they requested technical assistance related to disaster activities. GAO recommended that FEMA provide timely and consistent technical assistance to support tribal governments’ efforts to request and receive public assistance as direct recipients, including providing additional personnel, if necessary, to ensure that tribal nations are able to effectively respond to COVID-19.

The Department of Education (ED) provided COVID-19 assistance dollars through the Education Stabilization Fund for states’ and territories’ education needs, but did not maintain complete data on how these funds were used. GAO recommended that ED regularly collect and publicly report information on school districts’ financial commitments (obligations), as well as outlays (expenditures) to more completely reflect the status of their use of federal COVID-19 relief funds. For example, the agency could modify its annual report on state and school district spending data to include obligations data in subsequent reporting cycles.

Concerning the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, GAO continued to have concerns about overpayments and fraud. As of March 15, DOL reported that states identified more than $3.6 billion in PUA overpayments from March 2020 through February 2021. GAO recommended that DOL collect data from states on the amount of overpayments flagged in the PUA program to effectively monitor the recovery of overpayments.

Concerning the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, GAO said the Small Business Administration should: (1) conduct and document a fraud risk assessment for the program; (2) develop a strategy that outlines specific actions to address assessed fraud risks in the program on a continuous basis; and (3) implement a comprehensive oversight plan to identify and respond to risks in the program to help ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness and address potential fraud.

Another key suggestion GAO provided under the 28 new recommendations called for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to work in consultation with federal agencies and the audit community (e.g., agency offices of ) (e.g., agency offices of inspector general; National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers; and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) to incorporate appropriate measures in OMB’s process for preparing single audit guidance, including the annual OMB Compliance Supplement, to better ensure that such guidance is issued in a timely manner and is responsive to users’ input and needs.

Previous Recommendations

Among some of its previous recommendations involving COVID pandemic funding, GAO recommended that as the Department of Health and Human Services redesigns its performance management approach to improve its ability to assess whether the Community Services Block Grant program is meeting the national program goals to reduce poverty, promote self-sufficiency and revitalize low-income communities, the agency should include information on how its national performance measures and state outcome measures align with national program goals and include a written plan for how it will assess data reliability. This recommendation remains open.

Another open recommendation is GAO’s request that OMB develop and issue guidance directing agencies to include as part of their improper payment estimation methodologies COVID-19 relief funding with associated key risks, such as provisions contained in the CARES Act and other relief legislation that potentially increase the risk of improper payments or changes to existing program eligibility rules, as part of their improper payment estimation methodologies. This should be required especially for existing federal programs that received a substantial infusion of COVID-19 relief funding, GAO added.

For More Information

The GAO report, “COVID-19: Sustained Federal Action is Crucial as Pandemic Enters its Second Year,” (GAO-21-387) is available at