Justice Department Sues Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, for Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities

The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit alleging that the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, has discriminated against persons with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleges that Wolcott violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow the operation of a group home for adults with disabilities because of the disabilities of the proposed home’s residents. The department’s complaint further alleges that the Town amended its zoning regulations to prohibit any community residence for adults with disabilities from operating in the Town, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“The Fair Housing Act protects the right of individuals with disabilities to live and pursue happiness in this free country without suffering the indignity and injustice of discrimination dressed up as ‘zoning laws’ enacted or enforced as a result of misguided stereotypes and warped fears,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Disability discrimination is unconscionable, unlawful, and unnecessarily injures people. The Fair Housing Act prohibits municipalities from applying their zoning laws in a manner that discriminates because of disability. The Civil Rights Division is committed to eliminating illegal discriminatory barriers and ensuring that the Fair Housing Act protects the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy homes of their choosing.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney John H. Durham for the District of Connecticut. “This lawsuit is a step toward ensuring a future in which all people are granted equal opportunity and full integration in our society.”

“Persons with disabilities have a right to housing that meets their needs, including group homes,” said Anna María Farías, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “HUD will continue working with the Justice Department to take appropriate action when discriminatory policies and practices unlawfully deny housing opportunities to those who need them the most.”

This case arose when the Town of Wolcott denied a special use permit to a property owner and group home operator who sought to open a residence for 13 adults with mental health disabilities. At the time, the Town’s zoning ordinance permitted the operation of community residences of up to 15 adults with disabilities so long as certain conditions were satisfied. The owner and operator filed a complaint with HUD after their special use permit application was denied.

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting Wolcott from applying its zoning regulations in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities. The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, as well as payment of a civil penalty. A related case challenging Wolcott’s conduct was filed by the owner and operator of the proposed residence. That case, SELF Inc. et al. v. Town of Wolcott, is pending before the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, or submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov. Individuals may also contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.

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    The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has designed policies to address the risk of regulatory capture by reducing the potential benefit to industry of capturing the examination process, reducing avenues of inducement, and promoting a culture of independence and public service (see figure). Framework for Reducing Risk and Minimizing Consequences of Regulatory Capture FDIC has several policies for documenting bank examination decisions that help promote transparent decision-making and assign responsibility for decisions. Such policies are likely to help reduce benefits to industry of capturing the examination process. However, GAO found that some examinations were not implemented consistent with FDIC policies and that gaps in FDIC policies limited their effectiveness. For example, GAO found that managers sometimes did not clearly document how they concluded that banks had addressed recommendations. By improving adherence to agency policies, FDIC management could better address threats to capture in the examination process. GAO found that FDIC has policies to address potential conflicts of interest that could help block or reduce avenues of inducement. For example, FDIC has post-employment conflict-of-interest policies designed to prevent former employees from exerting undue influence on FDIC and to reduce industry's ability to induce current FDIC employees with prospective employment arrangements. One such policy requires the agency to review the workpapers of examiners-in-charge who accept employment with banks they examined in the prior 18 months. However, FDIC has not fully implemented a process for identifying when to review the workpapers of departing examiners to assess whether independence has been compromised. In particular, FDIC does not have a process for collecting information about departing employees' future employment. By revising its examiner-departure processes, the agency could better identify when to initiate workpaper reviews. FDIC has identified regulatory capture as a risk as part of its enterprise risk management process. The agency has documented 11 mitigation strategies that could help address that risk. Identified mitigation strategies include rotating examiners-in-charge, national examination training, and ethics requirements. FDIC supervises about 3,300 financial institutions to evaluate their safety and soundness. Some analyses by academic researchers have identified regulatory capture in supervision as one potential factor contributing to the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Regulatory capture is defined as a regulator acting in the interest of the regulated industry rather than in the public interest. GAO was asked to review regulatory capture in financial regulation. This report examines FDIC's (1) processes for encouraging transparency and accountability in the bank examination process, (2) processes to minimize potential conflicts of interest among examination staff, and (3) agency-wide efforts to address the risks of regulatory capture and compromised independence. GAO reviewed FDIC's policies and enterprise risk management framework, analyzed bank examination workpapers, and interviewed supervisory staff. GAO is making four recommendations to FDIC related to managing the risk of regulatory capture, including improving documentation of banks' progress at addressing FDIC recommendations and revising examiner-departure processes. FDIC neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations, but described actions it would take in response to them. FDIC's actions, if fully implemented, would address two of the four recommendations. For more information, contact Michael Clements at (202) 512-8678 or clementsm@gao.gov.
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    Government-wide contract obligations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic totaled $17.8 billion as of June 11, 2020. Four agencies accounted for 85 percent of total COVID-19 contract obligations (see figure). This report provides available baseline data on COVID-19 federal contract obligations. Contract Obligations in Response to COVID-19 by Department, as of June 11, 2020 About 62 percent of federal contract obligations were for goods to treat COVID-19 patients and protect health care workers—including ventilators, gowns, and N95 respirators. Less than half of total contract obligations were identified as competed (see figure). Top Five Goods and Services and Percentage of Obligations Competed, as of June 11, 2020 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 30, 2020, the United States has documented more than 2.5 million confirmed cases and more than 125,000 deaths due to COVID-19. To facilitate the U.S. response to the pandemic, numerous federal agencies have awarded contracts for critical goods and services to support federal, state, and local response efforts. GAO's prior work on federal emergency response efforts has found that contracts play a key role, and that contracting during an emergency can present unique challenges as officials can face pressure to provide goods and services as quickly as possible. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included a provision for GAO to provide a comprehensive review of COVID-19 federal contracting. This is the first in a series of GAO reports on this issue. This report describes, among other objectives, key characteristics of federal contracting obligations awarded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Future GAO work will examine agencies' planning and management of contracts awarded in response to the pandemic, including agencies' use of contracting flexibilities provided by the CARES Act. GAO analyzed data from the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation on agencies' reported government-wide contract obligations for COVID-19 through June 11, 2020. GAO also analyzed contract obligations reported at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs—the highest obligating agencies. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or MakM@gao.gov.
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  • GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance Conferences
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    GAO began 37 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of GAO's 37 requested entrance conferences for those audits, DOD scheduled 33 within 14 days and held 34 within 30 days of GAO's notification. Entrance conferences are initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff that allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. The four entrance conferences that were scheduled more than 14 days after notification were scheduled late due to either difficulties in identifying a primary action officer or aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. The three entrance conferences that were held more than 30 days after notification were scheduled late due to difficulties in aligning the schedules of GAO and DOD officials. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of their receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the final of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first three quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that it sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received GAO's notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the GAO team conducting each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Should Further Develop Cost, Schedule, and Risk Information for the W87-1 Warhead Program
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not consider cost estimates in early major design decisions for the W87-1 warhead because it was not required to do so, but NNSA has since changed its guidance to require that cost be considered, according to a May 2019 NNSA review of program documentation. The design decisions that remain for features that would achieve either minimum or enhanced requirements for the W87-1 could affect cost, according to NNSA officials (see table). We found, however, that NNSA did not yet have study plans for assessing the costs and benefits of the remaining decisions consistent with best practices as detailed in NNSA's analysis of alternatives business procedure. NNSA does not require and only recommends that programs such as the W87-1 follow these best practices. By directing the W87-1 program and future weapons programs to follow best practices for design studies, or to justify and document deviations, NNSA would have better assurance that design studies apply consistent, reliable, and objective approaches. NNSA Cost Estimates for W87-1 Warhead Design Variations That Meet Minimum and Enhanced Requirements, as of December 2018 (Dollars in billions) W87-1 design variations Cost estimate rangea Design includes features that meet minimum safety and security requirements 7.7 - 13.3 Design includes enhanced safety and security features 8.6 - 14.8 Difference between the above estimate ranges 0.9 - 1.5 Source: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) documentation | GAO-20-703 aThe cost ranges reflect low and high estimates for a single design variation. The ranges represent technical and production risk and uncertainty. It is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits—the fissile cores of the primary—to meet the W87-1 warhead's planned production schedule. Recent NNSA and independent studies have cast doubt on NNSA's ability to ready its two planned pit production facilities in time. If one facility is not ready to produce pits in the early 2030s, for example, NNSA would likely produce fewer weapons than planned, according to GAO's analysis of NNSA plans. We were unable to fully assess the extent to which the two pit production facilities will be ready to produce pits for the W87-1 because NNSA's plutonium program—which is managing the facility readiness efforts—has not yet completed an integrated schedule for the overall pit production effort. An integrated schedule is important, according to best practices, because it integrates the planned work, resources, and budget. An NNSA official stated that the program was building a schedule, but could not provide documentation that it would meet best practices. A schedule consistent with best practices would provide NNSA with better assurance that it will have adequate pits to meet planned W87-1 production. This is a public version of a classified report that GAO issued in February 2020. Information that NNSA or DOD deemed classified or sensitive has been omitted. The Department of Defense (DOD) and NNSA restarted a program in fiscal year 2019 to replace the capabilities of the aging W78 nuclear warhead with the W87-1. NNSA made key design decisions for this weapon from 2010 until the program was paused in 2014. NNSA estimated in December 2018 that the W87-1 would cost $8.6 billion to $14.8 billion, which could make it the most expensive warhead modernization program to date. NNSA plans to newly manufacture the entire warhead, including the two major nuclear components, called the primary and secondary, using facilities it is modernizing or repurposing. You asked us to examine plans for the W87-1 warhead. This report examines, among other things, the extent to which NNSA (1) considered cost estimates in prior design decisions for the W87-1 and the potential effects of remaining design decisions on program cost, and (2) will be able to produce sufficient numbers of key nuclear components to meet W87-1 production needs. GAO reviewed NNSA documentation on prior and remaining design decisions and preliminary cost estimates, reviewed warhead and component production schedules, and interviewed NNSA and DOD officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that NNSA require programs such as the W87-1 to follow analysis of alternatives best practices when studying design options and that the plutonium program build an integrated schedule consistent with schedule best practices. NNSA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19: Urgent Actions Needed to Better Ensure an Effective Federal Response
    In U.S GAO News
    The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in catastrophic loss of life and substantial damage to the global economy, stability, and security. According to federal data, the U.S. had an average of 116,000 new COVID-19 cases per day from November 1 through November 12, 2020. Between January 2020 and October 2020, at least 237,000 more deaths occurred from all causes, including COVID-19, than would normally be expected, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further, while the economy has improved since July 2020, many people remain unemployed, including both those temporarily laid off and those who have permanently lost their job (see figure). Also, more households have become seriously delinquent on mortgage payments during the pandemic. In addition, GAO’s review of academic studies suggests the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity. Number of Unemployed Workers Permanently Losing Jobs and on Temporary Layoff, January 2019 through October 2020 In response to the pandemic and its effects, Congress and the administration have taken a series of actions to protect the health and well-being of Americans. However, as the end of 2020 approaches, urgent actions are needed to help ensure an effective federal response on a range of public health and economic issues. Medical Supplies While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have made numerous efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain, shortages of certain supplies persist. In September 2020, GAO reported that ongoing constraints with the availability of certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. In October 2020, GAO surveyed public health and emergency management officials from all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories (hereafter states) and found the following: Testing supplies. Most states reported no shortages of swabs or transport media, but about one-third to one-half reported shortages in other types of testing supplies (see figure). State-Reported Testing Supply Shortages, as of October 2020   GAO surveyed officials in the 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and the five U.S. territories and received responses from 47 of the 56 locations, representing 41 states; Washington, D.C.; and all five territories. Not all states responded to every question. PPE. The majority of states that responded were mainly able to fulfill requests for supplies from organizations and entities within their states. However, availability constraints continue with certain PPE, such as nitrile gloves. Supplies for future vaccine needs. About one-third of states that responded stated that they were “greatly” or “completely” concerned about having sufficient vaccine-related supplies to administer COVID-19 vaccines. An additional 21 states indicated that they were moderately concerned. In September 2020, GAO recommended that HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic; immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain; and devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security disagreed with these recommendations, noting, among other things, the work that they had done to manage the medical supply chain and increase supply availability. In November 2020, HHS repeated its disagreement with GAO’s recommendations and noted its efforts to meet the needs of states. In light of the surge in COVID-19 cases, along with reported shortages, including GAO’s nationwide survey findings, GAO underscores the critical imperative for HHS and FEMA to implement GAO’s September 2020 recommendations. Vaccines and Therapeutics In a recent GAO report (GAO-21-207), GAO found that there has been significant federal investment to accelerate vaccine and therapeutic development, such as through Operation Warp Speed, a partnership between the Department of Defense and HHS that aims to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Separately, Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA), which allow for the emergency use of medical products without Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval or licensure provided certain statutory criteria are met, have also been used for therapeutics. As of November 9, 2020, FDA had made four therapeutics available to treat COVID-19 through EUAs. In that report, GAO recommended that FDA identify waysto uniformly discloseinformation from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO’s goal of transparency. COVID-19 Testing Guidance HHS and its component agencies have taken several key actions to document a federal COVID-19 testing strategy and provide testing-related agency guidance. However, this guidance has not always been transparent, raising the risk of confusion and eroding trust in government. In particular, while it is expected that guidance will change as new information about the novel virus evolves, frequent changes to general CDC testing guidelines have not always been communicated with a scientific explanation. GAO recommends that HHS ensure that CDC clearly discloses the scientific rationale for any change to testing guidelines at the time the changeis made. HHS concurred with this recommendation. Types of COVID-19 Testing Approaches Nursing Home Care In September 2020, the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes (established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in June 2020) made 27 recommendations to CMS on topics such as testing, PPE, and visitation. CMS released a response to the commission that broadly outlined the actions it has taken to date, but it has not fully addressed the commission’s recommendations or provided an implementation plan to track and report progress toward implementing them. While CMS is not obligated to implement all of the commission’s recommendations, the agency has not indicated any areas where it does not plan to take action. GAO recommends that CMS quickly develop a plan that further details how it intends to respond to and implement, as appropriate, the commission’s recommendations. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation and said it would refer to and act upon the commission’s recommendations, as appropriate. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) partners with state governments to provide nursing home care to more than 20,000 veterans in over 150 state veterans homes. In March 2020, VA instructed its contractor to stop in-person inspections due to concerns about COVID-19. As of September 2020, these inspections had not resumed, leaving veterans at risk of receiving poor quality care. Additionally, VA does not collect timely data on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths occurring at each state veterans home, hindering its ability to monitor and take steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in these homes. GAO recommends that VA (1) develop a plan to resume inspections of state veterans homes, which may include using in-person, a mix of virtual and in-person, or fully virtual inspections, and (2) collect timely data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in each state veterans home. VA concurred with both recommendations. Economic Impact Payments The CARES Act included economic impact payments (EIP) for eligible individuals to address financial stress due to the pandemic. As of September 30, 2020, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had disbursed over 165.8 million payments to individuals, totaling $274.7 billion. According to IRS data, more than 26 million non-filers—individuals who do not normally file a tax return and may be hard to reach—received a payment (see figure). However, everyone that was supposed to receive a payment was not reached. Starting in September 2020, IRS sent notices to nearly 9 million individuals who had not yet received an EIP. Number of Filers and Non-Filers Issued an Economic Impact Payment, as of September 30, 2020 Treasury and IRS officials did not plan to track and analyze the outcomes of their EIP notice mailing effort until 2021. The lack of timely analysis deprives Treasury and IRS of data they could use to assess the effectiveness of their notice strategy and redirect resources as needed to other outreach and communication efforts. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, should begin tracking and publicly reporting the number of individuals who were mailed an EIP notification letter and filed for and received an EIP, and use that information to inform ongoing outreach and communications efforts. Treasury agreed with this recommendation. Unemployment Insurance The CARES Act created three federally funded temporary programs for unemployment insurance (UI) that expanded benefit eligibility and enhanced benefits. In its weekly news releases, the Department of Labor (DOL) publishes the number of weeks of unemployment benefits claimed by individuals in each state during the period and reports the total count as the number of people claiming benefits nationwide. DOL officials told GAO that they have traditionally used this number as a proxy for the number of individuals claiming benefits because they were closely related. However, the number of claims has not been an accurate estimate of the number of individuals claiming benefits during the pandemic because of backlogs in processing a historic volume of claims, among other data issues. Without an accurate accounting of the number of individuals who are relying on these benefits in as close to real time as possible, policymakers may be challenged to respond to the crisis at hand. GAO recommends that DOL (1) revise its weekly news releases to clarify that in the current unemployment environment, the numbers it reports for weeks of unemployment claimed do not accurately estimate the number of unique individuals claiming benefits, and (2) pursue options to report the actual number of distinct individuals claiming benefits, such as by collecting these already available data from states. DOL agreed with the recommendation to revise its weekly news releases, and partially agreed with the recommendation to pursue options to report the actual number of distinct individuals claiming benefits. Tax Relief for Businesses To provide liquidity to businesses during the pandemic, the CARES Act included tax measures to help businesses receive cash refunds or other reductions to tax obligations. Some taxpayers need to file an amended income tax return to take advantage of these provisions; at the same time, IRS faces an increase in mail and paper processing delays due to the pandemic, which may delay the timely processing of this paperwork and issuance of these refunds. GAO recommends that IRS update its form instructions to include information on its electronic filing capability for tax year 2019. IRS agreed with this recommendation. Program Integrity Although the extent and significance of improper payments associated with COVID-19 relief funds have not yet been determined, the impact of these improper payments, including those that are the result of fraud, could be substantial. For example, numerous individuals are facing federal charges related to attempting to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), UI program, or other federal programs, and many more investigations are underway. To address the risk of improper payments due to fraud and other causes, GAO previously recommended the following: The Small Business Administration (SBA) should develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in the PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with Treasury, should issue timely guidance for auditing new and existing COVID-19-related programs, including Coronavirus Relief Fund payments, as soon as possible. Audits of entities that receive federal funds are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds.Also, Congress should amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to prevent payments to ineligible individuals. GAO maintains that implementing these recommendations fully is critically important in order to protect federal funds from improper payments resulting from fraud and other risks. In this report, GAO also identifies new concerns about the timely reporting of improper payments for COVID-19 programs. The COVID-19 relief laws appropriated over a trillion dollars that may be spent through newly established programs to fund response and recovery efforts, such as SBA’s PPP. However, unlike the supplemental appropriations acts that provided for disaster relief related to the 2017 hurricanes and California wildfires, the COVID-19 relief laws did not require agencies to deem programs receiving these relief funds that expend more than a threshold amount as "susceptible to significant improper payments." In addition, based on OMB guidance, improper payment estimates associated with new COVID-19 programs established in March 2020 may not be reported until November 2022, in some instances. GAO is making two recommendations: OMB should develop and issueguidance directingagencies to include COVID-19 relief funding with associated key risks, such as changes to existing program eligibility rules, as part of their improper payment estimation methodologies, especially for existing programs that received COVID-19 relief funding. SBA should expeditiously estimate improper payments and report estimates and error rates for PPP due to concerns about the possibility that improper payments, including those resulting from fraudulent activity, could be widespread. GAO is also suggesting that Congress consider, in any future legislation appropriating COVID-19 relief funds, designating all executive agency programs and activities making more than $100 million in payments from COVID-19 relief funds as “susceptible to significant improper payments.” Aviation Assistance and Preparedness GAO identified concerns about efforts to monitor CARES Act financial assistance to the aviation sector. Treasury’s Payroll Support Program (PSP) provides $32 billion in payroll support payments and loans to help the aviation industry retain its employees. While recipients have begun submitting required compliance reports, Treasury has not yet finalized a monitoring system to identify and respond to the risk of noncompliance with PSP agreement terms, potentially hindering its ability to detect program misuse in a timely manner. GAO is recommending that Treasury finish developing and implement acompliance monitoringplan that identifies and responds to risks in the PSP. Treasury neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation, but committed to reviewing additional measures that may further enhance its compliance monitoring and ensure that PSP funds are used as intended. In June 2020, GAO suggested that Congress take legislative action to require the Secretary of Transportation to work with relevant agencies, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security, and other stakeholders, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to limit the spread of communicable diseasethreats and minimize traveland trade impacts. GAO originally made this recommendation to the Department of Transportation in December 2015. GAO urges Congress to take swift action to require such a plan, without which the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to ongoing and future communicable disease events. As of November 12, 2020, the U.S. had over 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. 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 September 30, 2020, of the $2.6 trillion appropriated by these acts, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.8 trillion and expended $1.6 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies. The CARES Act included 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. GAO also sent a survey to public health and emergency management officials in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the five U.S. territories regarding medical supplies. GAO is making 11 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. GAO is also raising one matter for congressional consideration. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202)512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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  • Small Business Administration: COVID-19 Loans Lack Controls and Are Susceptible to Fraud
    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
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