Federal Manager's Daily Report

An audit has said it is difficult to track how federal agencies have spent at least tens of billions of dollars in pandemic relief efforts because of their failure to disclose details of that spending under OMB guidance designed to make it more transparent.

A report by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, an IG council created by one of the relief laws, said that was “partially the result of the need to quickly award COVID-19 assistance in the initial months of the pandemic.”

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It said that under OMB guidance, in making awards agencies are to include award descriptions that avoid acronyms or federal- or agency-specific terminology, and are to include the purpose of the award along with specific performance goals, indicators, milestones, or expected outcomes, and intended beneficiary or recipient of the funds.

However, a review of award description data in USAspending.gov for pandemic assistance programs identified some 12,600 awards worth about $11.6 billion in which the agency included only a standard “assistance listing” identifier used for programs such as grants, loans and other types of financial assistance.

Auditors also identified some 2,500 awards totaling about $19 billion in pandemic assistance that include agency specific jargon for award descriptions, and nearly 400 others with “non-descriptive award descriptions, such as “CARES,” “CARES ACT,” or “COVID-19” totaling $1.8 billion.

“Non-specific award descriptions prevent the public, agency management, and policy makers from determining the use of the federal pandemic assistance. A lack of transparency also hampers oversight and accountability efforts,” it said.

In addition to time pressures, the report also cited “a lack of continuous monitoring of government-wide agency submissions and the absence of data governance processes that enforce the consistent use of established standards and guidelines. Without these processes, preexisting challenges related to how agencies interpret and apply data standards were amplified by the pandemic.”

Further, the report said that usaspending.gov “does not definitively track COVID-19 supplemental spending at the subrecipient level” largely because a prime awardee is not required to identify the sub-award as COVID-19 funded when it receives funds from multiple sources.

It said OMB agreed with recommendations to develop resources to assist agencies in addressing the quality of their descriptions and to examine how to better track and report subrecipient spending.

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