The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), often referred to as Congress’ watchdog, is ramping up its oversight activities in preparation for an influx of investigations into fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement of funds distributed in Congress’s $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”). The GAO recently signaled its intent to investigate a wide range of issues related to the CARES Act, from the handling of the coronavirus crisis by federal agencies to the distribution of CARES Act funds to private businesses and individuals. Press reports indicate that GAO, which often reaches out to private companies for fact gathering, expects to initiate at least 30 reviews and audits by the end of April. Further, last week the Comptroller General (the head of the GAO) called on government employees, contractors, and private citizens to assist the GAO in these efforts by reporting allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement to FraudNet, the GAO’s whistleblower hotline.
The GAO joins a number of other governmental entities examining the coronavirus response, and even more still being assembled. The CARES Act’s oversight bodies, such as the Special Inspector General and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, are just starting their activities. And the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which Speaker Pelosi announced earlier this month, will not be able to organize until Congress returns to Washington. Unlike these new oversight entities, GAO already has a large staff of skilled investigators already in place and is adept at investigating federal agencies and businesses and individuals who interact with federal programs. Moreover, the GAO—which is required to provide a report to Congress on its CARES Act-related oversight ninety days after the Act’s enactment and then bimonthly—can take investigative requests from congressional committees as well as individual Members of Congress. Where other oversight entities may face challenges in getting started, the GAO may play a key fact finding role in investigating allegations of CARES Act-related fraud or abuse.
Covington often advises clients on responding to GAO inquiries. We will continues to monitor these developments and advise clients on the implications of GAO’s focus on CARES Act oversight. Covington’s broad range of experience in investigations, including inquiries from the GAO, positions the team well to respond to the GAO’s CARES Act reviews and audits.