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Report finds pandemic spending difficult to track even for experts

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A new report found that the $5 trillion Congress spent on pandemic relief efforts has been so difficult to track that it has even stumped some government investigators.

A new report from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee tracked $2.65 billion of pandemic relief funding to six communities. The report found that “data gaps make it difficult for taxpayers to know how much money their community received and for what purposes.” The $2.65 billion is part of $5 trillion in federal relief given out during the pandemic.

“Existing gaps in federal spending data make it difficult for the oversight community, decision-makers, and American taxpayers to fully understand where the money went and how it was used,” according to the report. “Moreover, these gaps even make it difficult for program officials administering the funds to have a clear understanding of funding recipients and uses.”

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which lawmakers created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act, or CARES Act, is a committee of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. The committee’s oversight team visited the six selected communities, which included two small to medium sized cities, two rural counties and two Native American Reservations, as part of the case study. The six communities in the study were Springfield, Massachusetts; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Sheridan County, Nebraska; Marion County, Georgia; the White Earth Nation Reservation in Minnesota; and the Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation in New Mexico.

The team found that the 10 federal agencies included in the review provided about $2.65 billion in pandemic relief funds to the six communities through approximately 89 pandemic relief programs and subprograms during the first 18 months of the pandemic (from March 2020 through September 2021). The team used a combination of federal, state and local data sources.

The team’s report found “persistent data gaps and data reliability issues.”

“Specifically, the time, resources, and non-public data required to identify the total amount of funding that went to the six communities illustrates the difficulty in fully understanding the recipients and uses of federal pandemic relief funds,” according to the report. “This review further demonstrates the clear need for broad government action and immediate steps to improve the transparency and accessibility of pandemic spending data.”

The money was not easy to track, according to the team.

“Data was sometimes difficult to find or unavailable. We had to use data sources that the public can’t access,” according to a summary. “One of our partners had to access five internal databases to determine the recipients in a single program. There were some programs where we don’t know how much money was either obligated or spent.”

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