Washington, DC — Michael E. Horowitz, Chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), sat down with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt this week to discuss COVID-19 relief fund scams and the efforts of the PRAC and Inspectors General to prevent the abuse of taxpayer dollars. The segment, featured across TODAY, MSNBC, NBCNews.com, and NBC News NOW, kicked off the return of network’s investigative series The Fleecing of America, which began on NBC Nightly News over 20 years ago.
“It strikes me as appropriate that NBC would highlight the critical work we do at the PRAC for this series,” said Chairman Horowitz. “Just as they have a big audience, some 11 million viewers across the United States, we have a big job, working closely with Inspectors General and the Government Accountability Office, to oversee $5 trillion in pandemic relief spending. Their viewers deserve to know how that money was spent and—for the money that was stolen—what we’re doing to get it back.”
The PRAC was established by the CARES Act and promotes transparency by making it easy for the public to track pandemic relief spending on our website, PandemicOversight.gov. By collaborating across the oversight community, the PRAC identifies cross-cutting issues and risks, detects fraud, and holds criminals accountable. The NBC Nightly News and Today Show segments touched on two initiatives the PRAC established to support this mission: the Pandemic Analytics Center of Excellence (PACE) and our Fraud Task Force.
The PACE is composed of data scientists who use Artificial Intelligence and risk models to find red flags in 150 million rows of pandemic spending data, as highlighted on NBC. After data scientists collect, mine, and analyze data for potential fraud, the PRAC Fraud Task Force takes over and helps law enforcement pursue investigations and criminal enforcement.
These initiatives allow the PRAC and its partner Offices of Inspectors General to conduct oversight and collaborate in ways the watchdog community has never done before.
“Watchdogs stand a better chance of identifying fraud by combining data sets and using tools like link analysis and anomaly detection,” said Robert A. Westbrooks, Executive Director of the PRAC. “They stand an even greater chance of catching fraudsters and holding them accountable by sharing informed data insights across the oversight community, among state and local partners, and with investigators in the field.”
To date, the work of the PRAC and its partner Inspectors General have led to 1,272 indictments and complaints, 949 arrests, and 455 convictions—among them, the egregious cases of fraud featured in the NBC segments and on our website PandemicOversight.gov. The watchdog community has up to ten years in some cases to pursue criminal investigations.
“What we’re here to tell [fraudsters] is we’re looking,” Chairman Horowitz said in the broadcast. “We’re using all the tools we have to get that money back to the Treasury.”
The PRAC was established by the CARES Act to promote transparency and support independent oversight of the funds provided by the CARES Act and other related emergency spending bills. In addition to its coordination and oversight responsibilities, the PRAC is tasked with supporting efforts to “prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement [and] mitigate major risks that cut across program and agency boundaries.”
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