Fast Facts

This review of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic is our fifth comprehensive report since June 2020 about the implementation of the CARES Act.

We remain deeply troubled by the lack of sufficient federal action on critical gaps identified and by the lack of clear plans to address these gaps. For example, a clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution plan remains a work in progress.

As of January, 27 of our 31 previous recommendations had not been implemented. This report makes 13 new recommendations to improve agencies' public health and economic recovery efforts, including the development of a national testing strategy.

Medical professional using a syringe to withdraw the COVID-19 vaccine from a vial.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Since November 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has rapidly increased, further straining health care systems across the country. Between December 31, 2020, and January 13, 2021, new reported COVID-19 cases averaged about 225,000 per day—over 7 and 3 times higher than the surges the nation experienced during the spring and summer of 2020, respectively. (See figure.) The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil as a result of the pandemic. As of December 2020, there were more than 10.7 million unemployed individuals, compared to nearly 5.8 million individuals at the beginning of the calendar year. Until the country better contains the spread of the virus, the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity.

Figure described in preceding paragraph. For additional information about this figure, refer to contacts listed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-265

In this report, GAO is making 13 recommendations to federal agencies to improve the ongoing response and recovery efforts in the areas of public health and the economy. As the new Congress and administration establish their policies and priorities for the federal government’s COVID-19 response, GAO urges swift action on these 13 recommendations, as well as on the additional recommendations that GAO has made since June 2020.

As of January 2021, 27 of GAO’s 31 previous recommendations remained unimplemented. GAO remains deeply troubled that agencies have not acted on recommendations to more fully address critical gaps in the medical supply chain. While GAO recognizes federal agencies continue to take some steps, GAO underscores the importance of developing a well-formulated plan to address critical gaps for the remainder of the pandemic, especially in light of the recent surge in cases. In addition, implementation of GAO’s recommendation concerning the importance of clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution and communication plans remains a work in progress. Moreover, slow implementation of GAO’s recommendations relating to program integrity, in particular those made to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Department of Labor (DOL), creates risk of considerable improper payments, including those related to fraud, and falls far short of transparency and accountability expectations. See appendix III for the status of GAO’s past recommendations.

GAO is pleased that the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021—enacted in December of 2020—requires a number of actions that are consistent with several of GAO’s prior recommendations, including those related to the medical supply chain, vaccines and therapeutics, and COVID-19 testing. GAO will monitor the implementation of the act’s requirements.

GAO’s new recommendations are discussed below.

COVID-19 Testing

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to controlling the spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not issued a comprehensive and publicly available national testing strategy. HHS’s national strategy documents are not comprehensive because they only partially address the characteristics that GAO has found to be desirable in an effective national strategy. For example, testing strategy documents do not always provide consistent definitions and benchmarks to measure progress, not all documents clearly define the problem and risks, and there is limited information on the types of resources required for future needs.

Furthermore, some of the documents have not been made public. While the national testing strategy is formally outlined in a publicly available document, HHS has provided only Congress with the COVID-19 Testing Strategy Reports, which detail the implementation of the testing strategy. Stakeholders who are involved in the response efforts told GAO they were unaware of the existence of a national strategy or did not have a clear understanding of the strategy. Without a comprehensive, publicly available national strategy, HHS is at risk of key stakeholders and the public lacking crucial information to support an informed and coordinated testing response. GAO is recommending that HHS develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy that incorporates all six characteristics of an effective national strategy. Such a strategy could build upon existing strategy documents that HHS has produced for the public and Congress to allow for a more coordinated pandemic testing approach. HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should take steps to more directly incorporate some of the elements of an effective national strategy.

Vaccines and Therapeutics

Multiple federal agencies, through Operation Warp Speed, continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. As of January 8, 2021, two of the six vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed have been authorized for emergency use, and vaccine distribution and administration have begun. (See figure below). However, distribution and administration fell short of expectations set for the end of the year. As of December 30, 2020, Operation Warp Speed had distributed (shipped) about 12.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and providers reported administering about 2.8 million initial doses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. In September 2020, GAO stressed the importance of having a plan that focused on coordination and communication and recommended that HHS, with the support of the Department of Defense, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and among other things, outline an approach for how efforts would be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities.To date, this recommendationhas not been fully implemented. GAO reiterates the importance of doing so. Effective coordination and communication among federal agencies, commercial partners, jurisdictions, and providers is critical to successfully deploying COVID-19 vaccines and managing public expectations, especially because the initial supply of vaccine has been limited.

Figure described in preceding paragraph. For additional information about this figure, refer to contacts listed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-265

Medical Supply Chain

The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities in the nation’s medical supply chain, which includes personal protective equipment and other supplies necessary to treat individuals with COVID-19. The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is an important piece of HHS’s recently developed strategy to improve the medical supply chain to enhance pandemic response capabilities. However, the department has yet to develop a process for engaging about the strategy with key nonfederal stakeholders that have a shared role for providing supplies during a pandemic, such as state and territorial governments and the private sector. GAO’s work has noted the importance of directly and continuously involving key stakeholders, including Congress, in the development of successful agency reforms and helping to harness ideas, expertise, and resources.

To improve the nation’s response and preparedness for pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders—including state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private industry—as the agency refines and implements its supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the SNS.HHS generally concurred with this recommendation and noted that the department regularly engages with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders. GAO maintains that capitalizing on existing relationships to engage these critical stakeholders as HHS refines and implements a supply chain strategy, to include the role of the SNS, will improve a whole-of-government response to, and preparedness for, pandemics.

In August 2020, the President issued an Executive Order directing agencies to take steps toward the goal of strengthening domestic drug manufacturing and supply chains. Federal agencies have started implementing the Executive Order, but expressed concerns about their ability to implement some of the provisions. In particular, GAO found that federal agencies do not have complete and accessible information to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and to report the manufacturing supply chains of drugs that were procured by the agency.

To help it identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the U.S. drug supply chain, GAO recommends that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensure drug manufacturing data obtained are complete and accessible, including by working with manufacturers and other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and, if necessary, seek authority to obtain complete and accessible information. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation.

COVID-19 Data for Health Care Indicators

The federal government does not have a process to help systematically define and ensure the collection of standardized data across the relevant federal agencies and related stakeholders to help respond to COVID-19, communicate the status of the pandemic with citizens, or prepare for future pandemics. As a result, COVID-19 information that is collected and reported by states and other entities to the federal government is often incomplete and inconsistent. The lack of complete and consistent data limits HHS’s and others’ ability to monitor trends in the burden of the pandemic across states and regions, make informed comparisons between such areas, and assess the impact of public health actions to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Further, incomplete and inconsistent data have limited HHS’s and others’ ability to prioritize the allocation of health resources in specific geographic areas or among certain populations most affected by the pandemic.

To improve the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future pandemics, GAO recommends that HHS immediately establish an expert committee comprised of knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits or use an existing one to systematically review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards for key health indicators.HHS partially concurred with this recommendation and agreed that it should establish a dedicated working group or other mechanism with a focus on addressing COVID-19 data collection shortcomings.

Drug Manufacturing Inspections

FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and effectiveness of all drugs marketed in the U.S., including those manufactured overseas, and typically conducts more than 1,600 inspections of foreign and domestic drug manufacturing establishments every year. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020, FDA has limited domestic and foreign inspections for the safety of its employees. (See figure below.)

FDA has used alternative inspection tools to maintain some oversight of drug manufacturing quality while inspections are paused, including inspections conducted by foreign regulators, requesting and reviewing records and other information, and sampling and testing. Although FDA has determined that inspections conducted by certain European regulators are equivalent to an FDA inspection, other tools provide useful information but are not equivalent to an FDA inspection. As a result, FDA could be faced with a backlog of inspections, threatening the agency’s goal to maximize inspections prioritized by its risk-based site selection model each year.

GAO recommends that FDA (1) ensure that inspection plans for future fiscal years identify, analyze, and respond to the issues presented by the backlog of inspections that could jeopardize its goal of risk-driven inspections, and (2) fully assess the agency’s alternative inspection tools and consider whether these tools or others could provide the information needed to supplement regular inspection activities or help meet the agency’s drug oversight objectives when inspections are not possible in the future. FDA concurred with both recommendations.

Figure described in preceding paragraph. For additional information about this figure, refer to contacts listed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-265

Federal Contracting

Federal agencies are using other transaction agreements to respond to the pandemic, which are contracting mechanisms that can enable agencies to negotiate terms and conditions specific to a project. GAO found that HHS misreports its other transaction agreements related to COVID-19 as procurement contracts, including other transaction agreements with about $1.5 billion obligated for Operation Warp Speed and other medical countermeasures. HHS’s approach is inconsistent with federal acquisition regulations and limits the public’s insight into the agency’s contract spending. To ensure consistent tracking and transparency of federal contracting activity related to the pandemic, GAO recommends that HHS accurately report data in the federal procurement database system and provide information that would allow the public to distinguish between spending on other transaction agreements and procurement contracts.HHS concurred with this recommendation.

Oversight of Worker Safety and Health

GAO identified concerns about federal oversight of worker safety and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adapted its enforcement methods for COVID-19 to help protect agency employees from the virus and address resource constraints, such as by permitting remote inspections in place of on-site inspections of workplaces. However, gaps in OSHA’s oversight and tracking of its adapted enforcement methods prevent the agency from assessing the effectiveness of its enforcement methods during the pandemic, ensuring that its adapted enforcement methods do not miss violations, and ensuring that employers are addressing certain identified violations.

To improve its oversight, GAO recommends that OSHA (1) develop a plan, with time frames, to implement the agency’s oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, and (2) ensure that its data system includes comprehensive information on use of these enforcement methods to inform these processes.The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations.

Additionally, OSHA’s data do not include comprehensive information on workplace exposure to COVID-19. For example, OSHA does not receive employer reports of all work-related hospitalizations related to COVID-19, as disease symptoms do not appear within the required reporting time frames. Employers may also face challenges determining whether COVID-19 hospitalizations or fatalities are work-related because of COVID-19’s incubation period and the difficulties in tracking the source of exposure. GAO recommends that OSHA determine what additional datamay be neededfrom employers or other sources to better target the agency’s COVID-19 enforcement efforts.The agency neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation.

Assistance for Fishery Participants

The CARES Act appropriated $300 million in March 2020 to the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to assist eligible tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants affected by COVID-19, which may include direct relief payments. After administrative fees were assessed, $298 million of the $300 million appropriated was obligated for fishery participants.Widespread restaurant closures in the spring of 2020 led to a decrease in demand for seafood, adversely affecting the fisheries industry.

As of December 4, 2020, all funds had been obligated and only about 18 percent ($53.9 million) of the CARES Act funding obligated for fishery participants had been disbursed, which is inconsistent with Office of Management and Budget guidance on the importance of agencies distributing CARES Act funds in an expedient manner. Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said they expect that the vast majority of funds will be disbursed to fisheries participants by early 2021. However, the agency does not have the needed information centralized to help ensure that funds are being disbursed expeditiously and efficiently. GAO recommends that NOAA develop a mechanism to track the progress of states, tribes, and territories in meeting established timelines to disburse funds in an expedited and efficient manner. NOAA concurred with this recommendation.

Program Integrity

GAO continues to identify areas to improve program integrity and reduce the risk of improper payments for programs funded by the COVID-19 relief laws now that federal agencies have obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the $2.7 trillion appropriated for response and recovery efforts as of November 30, 2020. Federal relief programs remain vulnerable to significant risk of fraudulent activities because of the need to quickly provide funds and other assistance to those affected by COVID-19 and its economic effects.

In this report, GAO identifies concerns about overpayments and potential fraud in the unemployment insurance (UI) system, specifically in the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides UI benefits to individuals not otherwise eligible for these benefits, such as self-employed and certain gig economy workers. As of January 11, 2021, states that had submitted data to DOL reported more than $1.1 billion in PUA overpayments from March through December 2020. While DOL requires states to report data on PUA overpayments, as of the beginning of 2021, the agency was not tracking the amount of overpayments recovered, limiting insight into the effectiveness of states’ efforts to recoup federal funds. To better track the recovery of federal funds, GAO recommends that DOL collect data from states on the amount of PUA overpayments recovered. DOL concurred with this recommendation, and has taken the first step toward implementing it by issuing new guidance and updated instructions for states to report PUA overpayment recovery data.

GAO also remains concerned about SBA’s management of internal controls and fraud risks in the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program. COVID-19 relief laws made qualifying small businesses and nonprofit organizations adversely affected by COVID-19 eligible for financial assistance from the EIDL program. Some approval requirements were also relaxed, such as requiring each applicant to demonstrate that it could not obtain credit elsewhere, through December 31, 2021. As of December 31, 2020, SBA officials said they had approved about 3.7 million applications for loans related to COVID-19, totaling about $200 billion. SBA rapidly processed loans and advances to millions of small businesses affected by COVID-19. GAO’s analysis of SBA data shows that the agency approved EIDL loans and advances for potentially ineligible businesses. For example, SBA approved at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million to potentially ineligible businesses in industries that SBA policies state were ineligible for the EIDL program, such as insurance and real estate development, as of September 30, 2020. GAO recommends that SBA develop and implement portfolio-level data analytics across EIDL loans and advances made in response to COVID-19 as a means to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation.

Why GAO Did This Study

As of January 15, 2021, the U.S. had about 23 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 387,000 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions.

Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of November 30, 2020, of the $2.7 trillion appropriated by these four laws, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.9 trillion and expended $1.7 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies.

In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, provided additional federal assistance for the ongoing response and recovery.

The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials and stakeholders. GAO completed its audit work on January 15, 2021.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 13 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response 1. To improve the nation's response to and preparedness for pandemics, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response should establish a process for regularly engaging with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders?including state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private industry?as the Department of Health and Human Services refines and implements a supply chain strategy for pandemic preparedness, to include the role of the Strategic National Stockpile. (Recommendation 1)
Open
As of March 2021, HHS generally agreed with our recommendation, while noting that the term "engage" is vague and unclear, and that they regularly engage with Congress and nonfederal stakeholders. HHS added that improving the pandemic response capabilities of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments is a priority.
Food and Drug Administration 2. The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should, as the agency makes changes to its collection of drug manufacturing data, ensure the information obtained is complete and accessible to help it identify and mitigate supply chain vulnerabilities, including by working with manufacturers and other federal agencies (e.g., the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs), and, if necessary, seek authority to obtain complete and accessible information. (Recommendation 2)
Open
HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In HHS's response in January 2021, FDA said that as the agency continues efforts to enhance relevant authorities and close data gaps, it will consider our recommendation.
Department of Health and Human Services 3. The Secretary of Health and Human Services should develop and make publicly available a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing strategy that incorporates all six characteristics of an effective national strategy. Such a strategy could build upon existing strategy documents that the Department of Health and Human Services has produced for the public and Congress to allow for a more coordinated pandemic testing approach. (Recommendation 3)
Open
HHS partially agreed with our recommendation. In January 2021, HHS agreed that the department should take steps to more directly incorporate some of the elements of an effective national strategy, but expressed concern that producing such a strategy at this time could be overly burdensome on the federal, state, and local entities that are responding to the pandemic, and that a plan would be outdated by the time it was finalized or potentially rendered obsolete by the rate of technological advancement. Additionally, HHS stated that, to be of value to the whole of nation response to COVID-19, testing plans need to establish guidelines and use metrics that are operationally relevant, which necessitates strategic flexibility in testing plans to guide those managing the response in the use of available resources to address local and state conditions rather than a single static nationwide plan. As of March 2021, HHS has not implemented this recommendation.
Food and Drug Administration 4. The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should, as inspection plans for future fiscal years are developed, ensure that such plans identify, analyze, and respond to the issues presented by the backlog of inspections that could jeopardize the goal of risk-driven inspections. (Recommendation 4)
Open
FDA agreed with our recommendation and as of January 2021, stated that it is actively tracking the list of sites that need to be inspected. FDA further noted that the size of the backlog will depend on the extent to which alternative inspection tools are used.
Food and Drug Administration 5. The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should fully assess the agency's alternative inspection tools and consider whether these tools or others could provide the information needed to supplement regular inspection activities or help meet its drug oversight objectives when inspections are not possible in the future. (Recommendation 5)
Open
FDA agreed with our recommendation and as of January 2021, stated that it would continue to evaluate these alternative tools. FDA stated that the resulting information will help determine how they can be used to streamline and supplement regular inspection activities and to prioritize inspections when normal inspection operations are not possible.
Department of Health and Human Services 6. To improve the federal government's response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future pandemics, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should immediately establish an expert committee or use an existing one to systematically review and inform the alignment of ongoing data collection and reporting standards for key health indicators. This committee should include a broad representation of knowledgeable health care professionals from the public and private sectors, academia, and nonprofits. (Recommendation 6)
Open
HHS partially agreed with our recommendation. HHS agreed that it should establish a dedicated working group or other mechanism with a focus on addressing COVID-19 data collection shortcomings. However, HHS said because of resource constraints and the ongoing response to the pandemic, it could not commit to immediately doing so. As of February 2021, HHS had no additional updates.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response 7. The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, in coordination with the appropriate offices within the Department of Health and Human Services, should accurately report data in the federal procurement database system and provide information that would allow the public to distinguish between spending on other transaction agreements and procurement contracts. (Recommendation 7)
Open
HHS agreed with our recommendation and stated that it has taken steps to manually identify its other transaction agreements in its contract writing system to allow the public to distinguish between spending on agreements and procurement contracts in Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. HHS also plans to update its contract writing system. As of March 2021, HHS had not provided an update on its progress.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration 8. The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should develop a plan, with time frames, to implement the agency's oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods, as described in its pandemic enforcement policies. (Recommendation 8)
Open
DOL neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In February 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provided an update on its plans to implement some oversight processes, but these plans did not include specific time frames or fully address the processes to oversee OSHA's use of adapted enforcement methods, as outlined in the agency's pandemic enforcement policies. For example, OSHA provided no plans to perform an on-site component for remote inspections, or to perform follow-up inspections specifically for informal inquiries conducted in place of inspections. As we reported in January 2021, without this monitoring, the agency lacks information on workplace hazards that may have been missed when using adapted enforcement methods and on how effective these methods have been overall in identifying hazards. Our review of Worker Safety and Health during the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. We will continue to examine OSHA's efforts to implement its oversight processes for COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration 9. The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should ensure that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Information System includes comprehensive information on use of the agency's COVID-19-adapted enforcement methods sufficient to inform its oversight processes for these methods. (Recommendation 9)
Open
DOL neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In February 2021, OSHA said that the agency believes its current OSHA Information System coding related to COVID-19 and adapted enforcement methods is sufficient to enable agency oversight, and it will add new coding if and when it is needed. We continue to believe that there are gaps in OSHA Information System coding that prevent reliable tracking of some of the agency's adapted enforcement methods. Our review of Worker Safety and Health during the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. We will continue to examine OSHA's efforts to ensure that the OSHA Information System includes sufficient information to inform its oversight processes.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10. The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should determine what additional data may be needed from employers or other sources to better target the agency's COVID-19 enforcement efforts. (Recommendation 10)
Open
DOL neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. In February 2021, OSHA said that it had considered our recommendation and has determined that it does not need additional information from employers to identify where pandemic-related enforcement should be targeted. OSHA also said that, pursuant to the President's January 21, 2021, executive order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, OSHA is working to launch a national program to focus OSHA's COVID-19-related enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles. Our review of Worker Safety and Health during the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. We will continue to examine OSHA's efforts in order to determine whether actions taken, including the implementation of OSHA's new national program, address our recommendation.
National Marine Fisheries Service 11. The Assistant Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries should develop a mechanism to track the progress of states, tribes, and territories in meeting timelines established in spend plans to disburse funds in an expedited and efficient manner. (Recommendation 11)
Open
As of February 1, 2021, the agency had developed an electronic tracking tool to track the disbursement of funds and had begun to input data into it based on approved spend plans. The agency plans to update these data on a weekly basis as funds are disbursed. The agency anticipates that all current and relevant data will be input into the tracking tool by May 2021 and that data will continue to be added to it until all funding has been disbursed.
Office of Unemployment Insurance 12. The Secretary of Labor should ensure the Office of Unemployment Insurance collects data from states on the amount of overpayments recovered in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, similar to the regular unemployment insurance program. (Recommendation 12)
Open
DOL agreed with our recommendation to collect data from states on the amount of overpayments recovered in the PUA program. On January 8, 2021, DOL took the first step toward implementing our recommendation by issuing new guidance and updated instructions for reporting PUA program activities. Specifically, DOL revised its PUA reporting instrument to collect PUA overpayment recovery data from states. As of March 15, 2021, this recommendation remained open, as just 14 states had begun reporting some data on the amount of PUA overpayments recovered. We will continue to monitor state reporting of PUA overpayment recovery data.
Small Business Administration 13. The Administrator of the Small Business Administration should develop and implement portfolio-level data analytics across Economic Injury Disaster Loan program loans and advances made in response to COVID-19 as a means to detect potentially ineligible and fraudulent applications. (Recommendation 13)
Open
SBA neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendation. SBA took issue with our finding that potentially ineligible businesses received EIDL advances and loans. SBA mentioned actions it takes to prevent payments to ineligible businesses for loans, such as conducting manual reviews of applications in prohibited categories and approving them upon further determination that they were eligible. According to SBA, it declined most applications in three prohibited business categories we identified (adult entertainment, casinos, and marijuana shops) following the manual reviews and approved some applications in these categories after manual reviews indicated that they were eligible. However, SBA did not provide any documentation that would enable us to verify the results of its manual reviews. In addition, we identified other prohibited business categories (multi-level marketing, insurance, and real estate development) where potentially ineligible businesses received EIDL loans. SBA did not address these other prohibited categories in its comments. As of March 2021, we are reviewing information that SBA has provided with regards to actions it and its contractors take to prevent payments to ineligible businesses. Our analysis was intended to provide an illustration of how fraud risk indicators can point to vulnerabilities typically managed through a fraud risk management approach. Such indicators are especially important in programs with heavy reliance on borrower certifications. We maintain that portfolio-level data analytics could help SBA manage its risk of providing funds to ineligible businesses.

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