By Jason Venner Director CliftonLarsonAllen Email T. 571.227.9518
- OIG and internal audit offices can play a pivotal role in protecting COVID-19 relief funds and increasing their impact.
- Cybersecurity and fraud risks are increasing, and funds are being wasted as key programs are disrupted.
- CLA can help you immediately address these issues through a suite of tailored oversight-related services.
A significant portion of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief funds have already been spent by federal agencies or made available to state, local, and tribal governments to combat the COVID-19 crisis.
The scope of the crisis and the speed of the relief effort may put some agencies’ risk and control frameworks to the test. For example, the Small Business Administration advanced $526 billion through 4.1 million loans to small businesses in 33 days — 20 times more volume than it had ever loaned in the course of a single year.
Although Federal agencies have significant oversight and reporting requirements for these funds, Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) and internal audit offices at all levels can enhance their oversight activities to protect these funds from the fraud, waste, and abuse that can occur during a crisis, as well as mitigate new and evolving risks.
We’re already seeing increased risks in the following areas:
- Cybersecurity, with a significant uptick in online scams and increased vulnerabilities associated with remote workforces
- Emerging tele-health care technologies and practices that provide new opportunities for fraudsters and hackers
- Fraudulent unemployment claims
- Delivery of capital improvement programs due to disruptions to supply chains as suppliers at different levels falter and exercise force majeure clauses
With these risks in mind and the heightened focus on relief funds from OIGs and internal audit offices, there are specific steps you can take to enhance oversight.
Six ways to enhance oversight of relief funds
Enhanced oversight can help increase the impact of every dollar spent. You can jump-start or supplement oversight of your COVID-19 relief funds.
- Plan — Enhanced oversight starts with a good plan. Develop a strategic, risk-based plan to help align your available resources to improve oversight coverage effectively. Revisit the plan regularly to keep it up-to-date and relevant.
- Assess risks — Timely assessments of strategic, financial, and operational vulnerabilities can enrich an oversight plan, align resources, and help jump-start deep dives on key risks.
- Audit and investigate — Dive deeper on your bread and butter oversight work. Conduct financial, performance, and internal audits at the federal and state and local levels. Consider using forensics in fraud, waste, and abuse investigations.
- Improve cybersecurity — COVID-19 created opportunities for hackers and other bad actors to increase — and adjust — their targeting. Take the necessary steps to understand and address these new cybersecurity risks.
- Harness data — Capitalize on the power of data by using data analytics and data visualization tools that can enhance all oversight, monitoring, and reporting functions.
- Manage uncertainty — Assess the maturity of your risk management processes, including internal controls and processes for monitoring and reporting risks. You can also train staff, leadership, and key stakeholders on risk management as needed.
In addition, consistently evaluate and forecast what your “new normal” may look like after the pandemic, so you can plan accordingly and oversight of COVID-19 funds can continue.
Funding is available, but can you find qualified people?
The CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provided almost $180 million to 15 federal OIGs to continue operations and oversee relief funds. OIGs and other oversight teams may need additional staff to meet the new requirements, and they may be recruiting from the same finite talent pool. Moreover, these skill sets are still in demand in the private sector and companies are still hiring new staff to address their audit and investigative needs. If quality people are available, new employees still have to navigate complex hiring, onboarding, and security clearance processes before they can start working.
COVID-19 presents challenges to accomplishing these tasks in a timely manner, and agencies should consider new employees’ needs when their staff return to work. As a result, it may be months before new hires are fully up-to-speed and adding value. These staffing challenges may require some organizations to supplement their existing staff with outside resources to meet oversight needs.