Federal agencies on the watch for fraud in coronavirus response

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  • With more than $2 trillion in pandemic stimulus going out the door, the Government Accountability Office is urging federal employees, contractors, and the public to report suspected fraud to its hotline. The stimulus spending bill requires GAO to report on its oversight of that money within 90 days, as well as issue bi-monthly reports over the first year of stimulus funding. GAO says tipsters can submit claims online or over the phone through a secure connection, and can remain anonymous.
  • The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is warning Sailors, Marines and federal workers about an uptick in card-cracking scams. Scammers are pretending to be debt consolidators and offering grant money as a “thank you” for service, and then ask for personal information. If you suspect you’ve been targeted immediately discontinue correspondence, change your passwords and notify your bank and command. NCIS urges service members and civilians to never provide their bank information to anyone.
  • A Georgia resident is under arrest for allegedly trying to fraud Veterans Affairs out of $750 million for personal protective gear used to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The Justice Department says Christopher Parris tried to sell 125 million nonexistent respirator masks to VA in exchange for large upfront payments. Parris is charged with wire fraud, and faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
  • Agencies are getting the green light to repurpose funding and equipment to help with the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Office of Management and Budget issued a class exception that provides additional flexibilities to donate medical equipment purchased with federal assistance funds to hospitals or medical centers. This is the third memo where OMB is trying to ease the burden of federal financial regulations and provide additional flexibilities. Several agencies, including NARA, GSA and EPA, have donated masks and protective gear to medical facilities.
  • The Pentagon plans to use the Defense Production Act to buy more than $100 million worth of medical masks. Officials plan to finalize contracts today that would spend $133 million on N95 respirators. DoD says it will use Title III of the DPA to award the contracts. That portion of the 1950 law is normally meant to shore up the domestic supply base, and not to force companies to make goods for the government. The Pentagon says the ramp-up in production will happen over the next 90 days, eventually boosting domestic production to 39 million masks. (Department of Defense)
  • Federal retirees have a new place online to enter their information to receive a stimulus payment through direct deposit. The IRS launched a new website last week, which allows Social Security recipients and other federal retirees who didn’t file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 to enter their personal banking information. This means retirees have a chance of getting their stimulus payments more quickly. The IRS will send paper checks through the mail to those who it doesn’t have direct deposit information for.
  • New White House guidance details how agencies should ensure stimulus money is handed out with speed, accountability and transparency. Agencies must report all stimulus spending on a monthly basis to the Office of Management and Budget, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service. This is one of several deadlines OMB outlined late last week in the guidance to ensure oversight, transparency and accountability of the funding from the CARES Act. OMB told agencies to maximize the use of existing transparency portals like USA spending dot gov and standards from the DATA Act to achieve the right balance of speed and transparency.
  • The VA is shifting medical personnel to New Orleans to help with the coronavirus response in Louisiana. The department activated its disaster emergency medical personnel system. That system allows VA to ask for volunteers to work in especially hard hit areas. VA is looking for employees who have experience with ventilators and intensive care units. Employees who finish a 14-day deployment in Louisiana will get a five-thousand-dollar award. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie says these deployments are a normal part of the department’s disaster response plan.
  • Karen Brazell is now VA’s new acting assistant secretary for enterprise and integration. She’s been VA’s principal executive director and chief acquisition officer for two years. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie says Brazell has played a key role in managing the agency’s medical supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic. Brazell replaces Melissa Glynn as the enterprise secretary. Glynn briefly served as the point-person for VA’s electronic health record modernization. But it’s unclear who has that responsibility now. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • It’s officially been a year since the Department of Homeland Security had a permanent secretary. Kirstjen Nielsen left her job as DHS secretary a year ago Friday. Acting leaders have run the department since then. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) says the lack of permanent leadership will inflict lasting damage on DHS. Especially during the current pandemic. He says there’s no indication the president will appoint a nominee to lead the department.
  • Democratic leaders of 20 House committees are asking a council of inspectors general for feedback on legislation to protect their independence. This comes after President Trump removed former acting DoD IG Glenn Fine as the head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and fired Michael Atkinson as the intelligence community’s inspector general. House Democrats introduced a bill last week that would give Fine another shot at leading the IG committee by expanding eligibility to deputy IGs and the senior staff IG offices. (House Oversight and Reform Committee)
  • National Guard advocates say it’s time to reform Title 32. The orders allow the National Guard to deploy with federal funds, but troops stay under the jurisdiction of state governors. The title also gives troops benefits they wouldn’t have otherwise. The National Guard Association says the red tape involved in putting guardsmen on Title 32 may be hurting service members. For example, a guardsman who is injured on the job and not on Title 32 can’t visit a military treatment facility. Currently 19 states and one territory are still in the process of getting Title 32 authorization for coronavirus response. (Federal News Network)