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Transparency into $5 Trillion: How the PRAC Protects Pandemic Relief Funds

On Wednesday, October 20, 2021, the Transparency Caucus hosted a conversation with the PRAC to learn about our crucial role in overseeing $5 trillion in pandemic relief legislation. We heard from a distinguished panel including PRAC Chairman and Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Liz Hempowicz of the Project on Government Oversight, former Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, and Caryl N. Brzymialkiewicz, Deputy Inspector General at the Department of the Interior. These leaders discussed the importance of transparency and oversight of the trillions of dollars the federal government has spent fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting Americans during this crisis and how the PRAC can help the administration, state and local government, and Congress to ensure effective use of these funds and fight fraud, waste, and abuse.

Items covered in the discussion

Panelists discussed the role of data innovation and data sharing in pandemic oversight work

Caryl N. Brzymialkiewicz, Deputy Inspector General at the Department of the Interior, explained how important data sharing is for the Inspector General (IG) community. The PRAC shares datasets and analytic tools across 30 IGs to keep offices from duplicating efforts and make it easier to find potential fraud. Former Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson pointed out that standing up data sharing practices at the outset of a crisis or program helps create a standard and efficient approach to oversight work and avoids having to spend time cleaning data.

Building a stronger framework for data sharing and analysis will help us prepare for future crises 

PRAC Chair and Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz shared updates from the Pandemic Analytics Center of Excellence (PACE), which was created to deliver analytic, audit, and investigation support to the oversight community as they root out historic levels of fraud, waste, and abuse in pandemic relief programs. In developing the PACE, the PRAC’s goal was to build a flexible and scalable analytics platform that can support Inspectors General during their pandemic-related work and beyond the organization’s sunset date in 2025 in future crises requiring financial relief (such as natural disasters).

Filling in gaps in the data will give us better insight into pandemic spending and its impact

Panelists discussed the importance of improving transparency into federal pandemic spending, specifically data reported to USASpending.gov and PandemicOversight.gov. Liz Hempowicz from the Project on Government Oversight and Michael Horowitz discussed how clearer award descriptions from recipients would help the public and policymakers better understand how recipients used their pandemic relief funds. Our report from October explains how these data gaps impact our ability to track taxpayer money and assess how programs are working.

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