Special IG for Pandemic Recovery Reports Progress Standing Up Operations but Challenges Remain
Published: October 21, 2020
In its second quarterly report to Congress, the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) revealed progress in establishing operations but stated limited hiring authorities hinder ramping up oversight operations.
The CARES Act establishes several oversight bodies to supervise administration of the act to limit waste, fraud and abuse in the programs. One of these oversight organizations is the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) within the Department of Treasury. The SIGPR has the duty to conduct, supervise, and coordinate audits and investigations of loans, loan guarantees, and other investments made by Treasury under any program established under Division A of the CARES Act.
The president nominated Brian Miller as Inspector General for SIGPR. Miller was confirmed in early June 2020 to head the organization. Since then, according to the most recent SIGPR quarterly report, the organization has accomplished the following:
- Determined its statutory jurisdiction
- Developed an organizational plan for conducting audits and investigations
- Built relationships and partnerships with other inspectors general and law enforcement agencies
- Acquired infrastructure, such as offices, IT, a Case Management System (CMS), and a website
- Launched investigations
SIGPR’s analysis determined its jurisdiction covers the following CARES Act Division A programs:
- Loans, loan guarantees, and other investments by the Secretary of the Treasury under Division A, Title IV, Subtitle A, section 4003
- The Payroll Support Program under Division A, Title IV, Subtitle B
- The Coronavirus Relief Program under Division A, Title V
- Loans by the Secretary to the United States Postal Service under Division A, Title VI
SIGPR also developed a new oversight matrix which summarizes the basic eligibility requirements and use restrictions for the major programs under Division A of the CARES Act. The matrix will help SIGPR determine if conditions are met for CARES Act funding. According to SIGPR this is an area ripe for fraud.
Organizational Plan for Conducting Audits and Investigations:
SIGPR established the Office of Audits to conduct audits of loans, loan guarantees, and other investments made by Treasury under any program established by Treasury under Division A of the CARES Act. The office will also perform audits of Treasury’s management of programs established under this same division of the CARES Act. The Office of Audits currently employs an Assistant Inspector General for Auditing (AIGA) and one staff member.
SIGPR also established the Office of Investigations (OI), which is the primary recipient for allegations of improper or illegal activity relating to the issuance and administration of CARES Act funds. However, hiring for this office is cumbersome and complex due to federal regulations. Currently, OI only employs one staff member, an Assistant Inspector General for Investigation (AIGI), because hiring mission-critical Special Agents (SAs) has been constrained.
SIGPR established the Office of Data Analytics, Evaluations & Special Projects (DAESP) to work with OI to build an efficient complaint-intake process to be included use of the CMS. DAESP employs one staff member, the Assistant Inspector General, due to continued hiring challenges.
SIGPR is building partnerships with U.S. Attorney’s Offices, various components within the Department of Justice, other offices of Inspector General, and with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
SIGPR is using office space provided by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA. USPTO is also providing SIGPR with internet resources, computer monitors, office furniture, wired telephones, and printers. However, SIGPR must migrated to Treasury laptops, mobile phones, etc. per Treasury guidelines.
SIGPR is using a copy of a Case Management System (CMS) provided by the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Additionally, SIGPR stood up a website using the expertise of an experienced CIO on detail from the Department of the Interior. The website includes information on whistleblower protections, and how to report fraud, waste, and abuse.
SIGPR’s Office of Investigations has initiated 21 preliminary investigations into allegations of improper activity. SIGPR referred seven of these to other IGs with proper jurisdiction. SIGPR is currently conducting one investigation jointly with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Recommendations and Challenges:
In its report, SIGPR offers two recommendations to Congress. SIGPR wants permission to submit quarterly reports no later than 30 days after the end of the calendar quarter.
Secondly, SIGPR recommends that Congress pass the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery Expedited Hiring Authorities Act of 2020, sponsored by Senator Grassley. According to SIGPR’s report, “hiring mission-critical Special Agents (SAs) has been constrained by a cumbersome hiring process.” The proposed legislation would expand the office’s hiring and contracting authority, and allow it to use volunteers and detailees from other government agencies. The expanded authority would allow it to bypass the lengthy government hiring process and quickly ramp up oversight operations.