At a Moment of Massive Government Cash Distributions, GAO Warns of Pattern of Payment Errors

Over the past two weeks, the federal government has unleashed a series of new programs providing business loans, refundable tax credits, direct payments to Americans, and enhanced unemployment compensation — all in an effort to begin to manage the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. In the midst of this flurry of legislative action and program rollouts, the GAO has issued a report detailing patterns of improper payments (estimated at almost $175 billion for fiscal year 2019) across 6 federal agencies. Although the report includes recommendations, some targeted and some more general, it seems unlikely that these agencies (or others looking on) can quickly learn from the analysis and modify systems as they race to distribute funds in an economic crisis. Moreover, in a time of constrained personnel resources due to COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, and overwhelming demand, agencies may find their ability to execute accurate delivery even more constrained than in the past.