Blue Dogs Call on House, Senate Leadership to Strengthen Spending Oversight in Pandemic Response Legislation

Jul 16, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON—Today, members of the Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to House and Senate leadership urging them to include measures to further protect taxpayer dollars in the next round of pandemic response funding. This letter follows the publication of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report identifying significant problems with the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the fact that the Treasury sent more than 1 million stimulus payments to deceased individuals, totaling almost $1.4 billion.

 

The Co-Chairs of the Blue Dog Task Force on Fiscal Responsibility and Government Reform, Reps. Ben McAdams (UT-04) and Ed Case (HI-01), were the lead authors. The letter was signed by all members of Blue Dog Coalition leadership, Reps. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), Lou Correa (CA-46), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), and Kurt Schrader (OR-05). Additionally, the following members signed the letter: Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05), Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16), Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Rep. Kendra Horn (OK-05), Rep. Daniel Lipinski (IL-03), Rep. Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02).

 

See below for the full text:

 

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, Leader McCarthy, Leader McConnell, and Leader Schumer:

 

As we continue bipartisan, bicameral efforts to enact another much-needed COVID-19 relief package, we respectfully ask that you include within this package specific measures designed to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

 

Never before in our history has Congress spent so much money so quickly as we have in response to COVID-19. Unprecedented spending, while necessary, creates an unprecedented opportunity for funds to be misused and other forms of mischief. Although the Administration has taken limited steps to increase transparency and accountability, it is incumbent upon Congress to further strengthen oversight.

 

Here are four steps that members of the Blue Dog Coalition propose Congress take to protect taxpayer dollars: 

 

  1. Stop Sending Checks to Dead People: According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), as of April 30, the Trump Administration has made nearly 1.1 million economic impact payments to deceased individuals, totaling almost $1.4 billion. This is unacceptable. Congress should fix the problem by including the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act in the next COVID-19 relief bill. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would, among other things, require federal agencies to make appropriate use of death data in order to curb improper payments to people who are no longer living.

 

  1. Protect Inspectors General and Federal Whistleblowers: The best way for Congress to track and prevent COVID-19-related abuses is to strengthen the inspectors general (IGs) within each federal agency. To that end, Congress should take up the Blue Dog Coalition-endorsed Inspectors General Independence Act, which would depoliticize IGs by giving them seven-year terms and protect them from partisan firing without cause. Congress should also prohibit retaliation against federal employees who file whistleblower complaints related to the use of coronavirus response funds.

 

  1. Show Taxpayers Where Their Hard-Earned Money Goes: Sunshine is the best disinfectant when it comes to combating waste, fraud, and abuse. Congress should codify the bipartisan Taxpayers Right-To-Know Act, which requires federal agencies to report on their federal program activities and provide that information to the Office of Management and Budget to be published online. 

 

  1. Shine a Light on the Fed’s Actions: Congress should narrow exemptions from certain transparency measures that have been afforded to the Federal Reserve. Specifically, Congress should require the Fed to keep records of meetings pertaining to the COVID-19 response and to make those records available to the public even if the Fed Chair determines the meetings were conducted under “unusual and exigent circumstances.” Given that the Fed has authorized nearly $6 trillion in economic support in response to the pandemic, the American people deserve to know how the Fed plans to use that money, and the full rationale and deliberations behind its decisions.

 

During this pandemic, every federal dollar wasted is a dollar less to support our health care system, our workers, and our businesses. Protecting taxpayer money should be the ultimate bipartisan cause, and the American people are counting on us to get this right.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

BACKGROUND:

 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Dogs have advocated for strong oversight measures to prevent waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. In March, the Coalition successfully secured several oversight measures as part of the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These measures included the creation of a Treasury Department Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery to provide oversight of Treasury loans and investments, and the establishment of a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee through the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to enhance government-wide protection for taxpayer dollars.

 

Following a series of actions by the White House that undermined the ability of Inspectors General (IGs) to oversee the government’s pandemic response and raised bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill, the Blue Dogs endorsed Rep. Jim Cooper’s Inspectors General Independence Act, which establishes seven-year terms for IGs and protects them from politically-motivated firings. Endorsed by The New York Times Editorial Board, members of the Blue Dog Coalition have continued to urge Congress to take up the legislation.

 

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