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.