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. 

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”

What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

Last Tuesday, the House took a great step towards making the people’s chamber more efficient and responsive with the passage of a resolution (H.Res 756) adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. 

The resolution contains five titles: (1) streamlining and reorganizing human resources; (2) improving orientation for members-elect and providing improved continuing education opportunities for members; (3) modernizing and revitalizing technology; (4) making the House accessible to all; and (5) improving access to documents and publications. Note, it includes a request that, whenever practical, the House Administration Committee will publish any report required under this resolution online. (Nicely done!)

The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. We cataloged the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and broke down the items due by entity below.

Continue reading “What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?”

Forecast For February 3, 2020.

THE TOP LINE

Congress’s science & tech policy agency was defunded in the 90s; this week, Harvard’s Ash Center published Zach Graves and my road map to building a modern congressional technology assessment office. (More below)

The House moved to reassert congressional war powers authority when it passed two measures that limits the spending of money on war with Iran and repeals the Iraq AUMF. (More below)

Congress has turned to the courts to enforce its oversight authority, but what happens if the Legislative Branch loses standing to sue? (More below)

This week: The Fix Congress Committee set a hearing on deliberative process for Wednesday; House appropriators will start oversight hearings for the FY 2021 appropriations cycle; and we posted the results of the first ever First Branch Forecast reader survey — they might surprise you!

Memory Hole:The Library of Congress nixed, at the last minute, a “mural-size photograph of demonstrators at the 2017 Women’s March” — which would have been featured in a prominent exhibition on women obtaining the right to vote — because “of concerns it would be perceived as critical of President Trump,” i.e., what a library spokesperson cited as “vulgar language and political content.” (To wit, the right to vote is inherently political content and the march was prompted in part by “vulgar” language.) According to WaPo, Dr. Hayden supported the decision to exclude the photo.

Continue reading “Forecast For February 3, 2020.”

Job Announcement: Policy Analyst (Position Has Been Filled)

POLICY ANALYST, DEMAND PROGRESS

Want to fix Congress? Do you think members and staff are captive to a broken process and lack the resources to do their jobs? Do you want your government to be transparent, accountable, and effective? Do you want to rebuild Congress’ science and technology capabilities? If so, this job is for you.

Demand Progress is looking for a smart, self-starting, intensely curious person fascinated by legislative policymaking who is willing to roll up their sleeves to make things better.

WHAT YOU’LL DO
You will be a policy analyst working as part of a small team focused on strengthening Congress’s capacity to govern and understand science and technology issues, led by Daniel Schuman, Demand Progress policy director.

You will spend 100% of your time working to improve Congress, using whatever techniques we can figure out to help us get there. We are focused on supporting the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, the Committee on House Administration, the Senate Rules Committee, the House and Senate legislative branch appropriations subcommittees, and the support support offices and agencies.

The work includes:

• Research and Writing: Performing research; writing reports, articles, blogs; supporting the writing of those resources; and contributing to our weekly newsletter (the First Branch Forecast).

• Connecting with People: Attending hearings, convening people, working with the media, representing the organization at coalition meetings, and using electronic media (twitter, listservs, etc.).

• Lobbying and lobbying support: This is a smaller but important part of your job: helping to write one-pagers, keeping in touch with staff, and supporting legislative staff who have good ideas.

• More: Figuring out new ways to solve problems, as well as a fair amount of the usual humdrum paper-pushing.

We strongly believe in helping staff grow and achieve their potential. You will get a lot of runway (and a lot of help), and we want you to make the most of it.

We are a small but mighty team.

OUR PHILOSOPHY AND BACKGROUND
Demand Progress has a progressive philosophy; however, making Congress better is not a liberal or conservative issue. You are expected to be able to work with everyone from across the political spectrum. I do mean everyone. At the same time, the institutions inside Congress that support legislative expertise come out of the progressive era, so it’s important to stay grounded in the idea that Congress must work for all Americans.

COMPENSATION
The salary is $55-65k, depending on your experience. In addition, Demand Progress offers excellent benefits such as employer-paid health insurance, a 3% retirement match, 3 weeks vacation (plus the week between Christmas and New Years), parental leave, travel expenses, and short and long term disability insurance. This position is considered exempt for overtime purposes.

You can work from wherever you want— we don’t have a central office — but you are expected to regularly attend meetings with Congress and with civil society organizations in the Washington, D.C. area. You also can keep flexible hours, subject to the approval of your supervisor and the needs of the job.

This is a grant funded position and this position is funded for the next year.

QUALITIES YOU SHOULD POSSESS:

  • Openness to implementing unconventional and innovative ideas.
  • Be self-starting, resourceful, and organized.
  • The ability to manage multiple projects and meet deadlines.
  • Be a proactive problem solver (and avoid the word proactive).
  • Strong attention to detail.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • A willingness to learn and to teach.
  • A sense of humor and a sense of the absurd.

PREFERRED EXPERIENCE AND SKILLS:
A bachelor’s degree with at least 2 years of work experience. Ideally, you’ll have worked on or around Capitol Hill as staff, as a journalist, or in an advocacy role in civil society. It is a plus if you already possess expertise in how the lawmaking process works, and experience with the aforementioned committees and offices is a real bonus. Familiarity with the former Office of Technology Assessment and efforts to revive it also is a plus. You must be a capable and fluent researcher and writer that is used to working on a deadline. This is not an entry-level position.

Comfort with Google applications (Gmail, Google docs, calendar, etc).

Basic computer/technology skills or understanding thereof.

Strong analytical skills. You be able to figure out why things work as they do and what the effects are of changing the underlying system.

ABOUT DEMAND PROGRESS
Demand Progress is a national grassroots organization with 2.5 million members that promotes the democratic character of the internet and uses it to break concentrated power and make government accountable. Our work focuses on the final part: building up the legislative branch as an institution capable of overseeing the executive branch and making smart legislative decisions.

We are fiscally sponsored by New Venture Fund and the SixteenThirty Fund, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations. In other words, we’re a traditional non-profit and we can lobby and engage in political activity. Your work largely will fit comfortably into 501(c)(3) work, although you will do some 501(c)(4) work. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to register as a lobbyist if you spend 20% of your time lobbying, although that is unlikely.

HOW TO APPLY
We will begin reviewing applications no later than August 9, 2019, and continue on a rolling basis.

Please submit your job application to jobs@demandprogress.org. Please follow the following directions:

  • In the subject line, write: “Policy Analyst: yourname
  • In the body, please include your first and last name, your phone number, and an email address to contact you.
  • Please attach a cover letter, resume, and a writing sample or two. The writing sample (or two) should demonstrate your ability to analyze, explain, or summarize a topic, ideally something that’s congressionally-related.

MORE ABOUT DEMAND PROGRESS
Demand Progress is committed to the principles of social and economic justice, and we try to build a workplace where all employees are treated fairly, feel respected as individuals and enjoy working together. Additionally, we recognize that the issues we work on play out differently in different kinds of communities, and value the perspective of people from communities that have traditionally experienced discrimination.

People of color, women, people with disabilities, and LGBT people are especially encouraged to apply.

NEW VENTURE FUND CAREERS
Demand Progress is a project of the SixteenThirty Fund, a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization; and Demand Progress Education Fund is a project of the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) public charity that incubates new and innovative public-interest projects and grant-making programs. The New Venture Fund is committed to attracting, developing and retaining exceptional people, and to creating a work environment that is dynamic, rewarding and enables each of us to realize our potential. The New Venture Fund’s work environment is safe and open to all employees and partners, respecting the full spectrum of race, color, religious creed, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation, ancestry, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, and all other classifications protected by law in the locality and/or state in which you are working.

(First announced on August 5, 2019)