The RAT Board: How to Monitor Coronavirus Relief

After the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent stimulus, the RAT Board — Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board — was established to track itemized spending of $840 Billion disbursed by 29 federal agencies. Funding was tracked by zip code, agency, recipient, and funding category. 

While the RAT Board’s Recovery.gov website has been shut down, the above archived screenshot is available, and the Project On Government Oversight maintains the data

The RAT Board included Inspectors General from 12 federal agencies and an advisory panel appointed by the president. It provided quarterly and annual reports to Congress, as well as “flash reports” for anything requiring immediate attention. 130,000 prime and sub-recipient grant reports were collected in the first quarter and displayed on Recovery.gov — the first of 17 consecutive quarterly reporting deadlines the RAT Board met. 

The effort was hailed as the “government’s most groundbreaking anti-fraud unit.” GAO noted the RAT Board provided significant analytical services and preserving its capabilities could help sustain oversight of federal expenditures. The RAT Board’s accomplishments included:

  • Completed nearly 3,200 audits, inspections and reviews;
  • Recommended better use of $8 Billion in funding and questioned costs of $5 Billion;
  • Resulted in 1,665 convictions, pleas, and judgments and more than $157 million in recoveries, forfeitures, seizures, and estimated savings. 

Recovery.gov was built from scratch in 12 weeks in 2009. In 2020, additional assistance and insight could be provided by GAO’s data analytics team, USDS and/or 18F, and the recently established volunteer US Digital Response Team of 500+ qualified technologists with government experience.

The CARES Act (the recent $2.2 Trillion coronavirus legislation) does provide a similar mechanism to the RAT Board by establishing a multi-agency board of Inspectors General (although its implementation is in question with the presidential signing statement and removal of its first chair). The Act also established a five-member Congressional oversight panel, and Speaker Pelosi stated her intention to create a Select Committee in the House (although this cannot be established without a vote).

Oversight of the Trillions of dollars in relief funds should be in real-time and include a public-facing dashboard to ensure Congress and the public have access to information to direct resources and evaluate relief. 

Legislative Staffers Get Paid Family and Medical Leave During The Pandemic, But It’s Not Permanent

In the midst of this pandemic, legislative staffers have been forced to modify the way they support lawmakers and constituents by switching to telework. These staffers remain on the metaphorical front lines though as they provide assistance to constituents who are desperately in need of support. Legislative staffers, especially those who reside in DC, are strapped with high housing costs, low wages, long work hours, and, with risk of illness particularly acute at the moment, they lack adequate paid and family leave protections.

There has undoubtedly been improvements to the paid parental leave benefits offered to legislative staffers in recent years, but there is still a long way to go. We have written before about the push for full paid family and medical leave for congressional staffers, but most policy proposals have been halted due to the ever-important task of adequately combating the coronavirus. While the passage of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act included provisions that enable congressional staff 12 weeks of paid parental leave, the legislation left out paid family and medical leave. 

For weeks during this pandemic, legislative staffers have not been able to get guaranteed paid time off to take care of themselves, sick family members, or kids who may be at home due to school closures. There have been numerous cases of congressional staffers contracting coronavirus while others have been forced to quarantine due to exposure. It’s also evident that this pandemic will be lasting months or longer.

But there is some good news: the paid leave guidelines all changed last week, albeit in a narrow way.

Continue reading “Legislative Staffers Get Paid Family and Medical Leave During The Pandemic, But It’s Not Permanent”

Coronavirus Relief: Science and Tech Capacity in Congress

Congress, heal thyself.  

Congressional capacity (or lack thereof) to respond to a global pandemic is on full display.  Members in the House and Senate have tested positive, as have staff. Republicans in the Senate briefly held their majority by one (48-47 with 5 Republican Senators in quarantine).

Members are limited to in-person deliberation and voting at a time of social distancing and self-quarantining.  Congress has historically underfunded its own operations, as well as science and technology assessment.  Federal contracting rules and government systems make it difficult to buy and use commercial, off-the-shelf systems the rest of us take for granted.  

Congressional capacity is “the human and physical infrastructure Congress needs to resolve public problems through legislating, budgeting, holding hearings, and conducting oversight.” As Congress funds millions of individuals and businesses, as well as state and local governments across the country with Trillions of dollars, it must fund its own capacity to respond to this crisis. 

Continue reading “Coronavirus Relief: Science and Tech Capacity in Congress”

Congress Can Save Taxpayers Billions By Using Data Science to Stop Improper Payments

By Maggi Molina and Dan Lips

Congress faces major challenges in 2020—including the Coronavirus pandemic and addressing its significant disruptions to our way of life. With the Congressional Budget Office already forecasting trillion dollar federal deficits through 2030, lawmakers may have less flexibility to authorize new spending to address these problems.

One way for Congress to improve the government’s balance sheet would be to stop federal agencies from making improper payments. “Improper payments” doesn’t sound that bad — perhaps you used Paypal instead of Venmo — but they are essentially illegal payments. These are payments that should not have been made or that were made in incorrect amounts.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported that federal agencies made $175 Billion in improper payments in 2019. Of those, $75 Billion (or 42 percent) were reported as a “monetary loss, an amount that should not have been paid and in theory should or could be recovered.” More than two-thirds of the improper payments were concentrated in three programs: Medicaid, Medicare, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

GAO warned that the problem could be even bigger: “The federal government’s ability to understand the full scope of its improper payments is hindered by incomplete, unreliable, or understated agency estimates,” among other issues. Indeed, a number of agencies do not accurately report this information.

Continue reading “Congress Can Save Taxpayers Billions By Using Data Science to Stop Improper Payments”

Forecast for April 6, 2020.

TOP LINE

It’s been another never-ending week. We hope that you’re staying healthy and staying at home. This issue focuses on continuity of Congress, protecting whistleblowers, mass surveillance, and coronavirus “oversight.” 

(Hey, if you’re regularly reading our little newsletter, why not subscribe if you have not already? It’s free…)

Continue reading “Forecast for April 6, 2020.”

Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending April 2, 2020

For the week ending April 2, 2020, there were 4 Capitol Police incidents reported; 4 individuals arrested. Only 3 of the 4 incidents reported were within USCP jurisdiction. There were 3 traffic related incidents, including two invalid traffic permits. Numbers continue to decline as the US Capitol Complex stays closed and DC’s stay-at-home order goes into effect. 

Continue reading “Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending April 2, 2020”