VSongress has appropriated over $4.6 trillion in response to COVID-19, much of which has nothing to do with the pandemic. This does not include the proposed $1.75 trillion (actually $4.9 billion) to build back better legislation, which was stalled in the Senate. Of the $4.6 trillion, 78%, or $3.6 trillion, was spent by 44 different federal agencies. With such an amount of spending in such a short time by a government that has an abysmal record of fiscal responsibility, there has already been a significant amount of waste, fraud and abuse, which will only grow as watchdogs catch up with spending.
The Secret Service has uncovered $100 billion in the theft of COVID-19 pandemic relief funds, with just 2% of that money recovered and more than 100 suspects arrested. If it is the number of people arrested, it is impossible to say the total number of criminals who defrauded these programs. Cleaning up the mess after the money has been stolen is the government’s usual and ineffective approach, rather than establishing preventative processes and systems that will prevent the money from being wasted in the first place.
On January 27, the Government Accountability Office made five new recommendations in addition to its previous 246 proposals for “significant improvement” in surveillance and responses to COVID-19 and other public health emergencies. The recommendations focused on emergency rental assistance, nutrition, assistance and business tax relief. The GAO also added the direction and coordination of public health emergencies at the Department of Health and Human Services to its high-risk list.
The Treasury Department spent the most of any agency, more than $1.38 trillion, followed by the Small Business Administration with $934 billion. The Treasury has disbursed $38 billion of the $46.6 billion available for the Emergency Rent Assistance Program, which provides funds to households unable to pay rent or other expenses due to the pandemic of COVID-19. GAO found that the department lacked a recipient review process that could verify the eligibility and accuracy of ERA payments. In other words, like a child in a candy store, there was no control or monitoring.
The size and scope of federal government waste is so significant that it is sometimes difficult to explain how it affects individuals and their families. One way to look at this problem is through a local lens, as when a small rural community of 41 homes in Iowa discovers that an unreasonable amount of money has been spent on snow removal and road maintenance. The impact of wasteful spending is much more personal and noticeable since budget meetings are small and held in someone’s home, and decisions are not made behind closed doors by members of Congress who are not directly affected by their decisions. in terms of expenses.
Keeping governments small and local means less overreach and making governments more accessible. Ensuring that federal legislators are accessible, responsible and accountable is already a challenge. By now, too much of the money from the COVID-19 “relief” fund is already wasted, and the Biden administration’s push to spend billions more will only make the situation worse.
The Founding Fathers intended to limit the powers of the centralized federal government. They understood the need to keep a government small enough to fit within the Constitution. Today, the federal government is involved in every aspect of our lives, and it’s far too easy for the government to go overboard and overspend. And the most concerning aspect of all is the power of unelected bureaucrats in federal agencies to spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars without any real consequences if they don’t spend the money effectively and efficiently.
The waste and abuse in COVID-19 pandemic relief programs is the perfect representation of a government that is too big and in need of reform. The January 27 GAO report, which is similar to many previous GAO reports, will hopefully be a wake-up call this time around for greater fiscal accountability and responsibility.
Christina Herrin is director of health and science policy at Citizens Against Government Waste.