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119 views • February 2, 2023

House Oversight and Accountability Panel Told Pandemic Fraud Is Biggest Scam in US History

Capitol Report
Capitol Report
When Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo) asked if any of the three expert witnesses testifying before Congress on Feb. 1 could name a single government director or supervisor who has been fired or demoted as a result of the estimated $500 billion lost to waste, fraud, and abuse in pandemic relief spending, none of them could do so. Boebert was followed by freshman Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) who told the witnesses he was “shocked to learn when preparing for this hearing that many of the COVID benefits, or at least some of them, were available on a self-certifying basis.” Goldman, who prosecuted multiple cases of mortgage fraud during and following the 2008 economic crisis, called the government allowing benefit applicants to self-certify their eligibility “a recipe for fraud.” These weren’t just any witnesses being questioned by Boebert, Goldman, and the other 47 members of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability (HCOA) about the hundreds of billions of tax dollars already known to have been stolen by bad actors in government, the private sector, and even overseas. Committee members and witnesses agreed there is likely vastly more in losses that have yet to be discovered. The trio of experts included Michael Horowitz, Chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) and Inspector General (IG) for the Department of Justice, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, who oversees the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, and David Smith, Assistant Director for the Office of Investigations for the U.S. Secret Service. Between them, the three have nearly a century of experience battling WFA (waste, fraud, and abuse) in the federal government and elsewhere. Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) opened the lengthy hearing that was the panel’s first of the 118th Congress by calling the lost billions “the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history.” He also accused Democrats, who controlled the committee in the prior Congress, of doing no oversight of the more than $5 trillion spent by Congress, former President Donald Trump, and his successor in the Oval Office, Joe Biden, to combat the COVID pandemic. The pandemic, which originated in China, began in March 2020 and has killed more than 1 million Americans and six million people worldwide. The United States imposed unprecedented measures that all but brought the economy to a halt, costing millions of jobs, leaving legions of Americans struggling to buy food and gas, and restricting normal outdoor life for months on end. The nation remains on official alert for a federally proclaimed Public Health Emergency (PHE). Comer said the Democrats failure to conduct oversight of the pandemic trillions during the 117th Congress led directly to unprecedented levels of WFA. “We have seen reports that between $163 to $400 billion in Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits were paid out improperly. We have seen reports that between $76 to more than $100 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury and Disaster Loans (EIDL) were lost to improper payments. We have seen reports that $266 billion in improper payments were made by Medicaid during the pandemic,” Comer told the hearing. “That is why we are having our first hearing of the new Congress on waste, fraud, and abuse in pandemic spending programs. We will hold many more hearings on this important issue. We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom of the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history. We must identify where this money went, how much ended up in the hands of fraudsters or ineligible participants, and what should be done to ensure it never happens again,” Comer continued. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the oversight panel, agreed that the pandemic spending programs “have recently been proven shockingly vulnerable to impostors, hustlers, con-men, Big Liars, outright fraudsters, and fakes,” and that “some of the programs developed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic have proven vulnerable to the relentless, de
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