Comer Opens Hearing Investigating Billions Lost to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Pandemic Programs
WASHINGTON—House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) today delivered opening remarks at a hearing titled “Federal Pandemic Spending: A Prescription for Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.” After spending trillions of dollars under the name of COVID with no guardrails or protections, billions of taxpayer dollars were lost to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. Chairman Comer emphasized that Republicans will 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.
Below are Chairman Comer’s remarks as prepared for delivery.
Welcome to the first hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability in the 118th Congress.
As Chairman, I intend to focus this Committee’s attention and resources on its core mission: to ensure our government is working for the American people in an efficient manner; agencies guard taxpayer funds from fraudsters and ineligible participants; and political leadership be held accountable for the bad consequences of their policies.
Last Congress, Democrats strayed far from this mission. The Biden Administration faced little to no scrutiny under unchecked, one-party Democrat rule in Washington.
This Committee conducted almost no oversight of federal government agencies, programs, or policies. The nonpartisan Lugar Center gave Democrats an “F” in oversight last Congress.
Instead, this Committee spent its time and resources demonizing America’s oil and gas industry, investigating an NFL football team, and examining pet flea and tick collars.
The American people have suffered from the lack of oversight and accountability.
Crises have continued and worsened.
Our nation is facing the worst border crisis in American history.
Fentanyl, which is coming across the southern border, is the leading cause of death for many Americans.
Americans are facing high energy prices resulting from policies aimed at diminishing domestic energy production.
And the American people have struggled with consequences of prolonged COVID closures and lockdowns, inflation, and shortages of labor and goods.
That is why this first hearing is so important.
Today’s hearing is a first step in examining the massive waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in COVID-relief programs.
In March of 2020, the United States struggled to respond to growing threats presented by COVID-19.
With the economy on the brink of collapse, Congress passed a series of bills intended to both fund the public health response and keep the economy afloat.
The largest of these measures was the bipartisan CARES Act.
It created programs like the Paycheck Protection Program which saved jobs at small businesses across the country.
It rolled out pandemic unemployment insurance to help American workers who were victims of business closures and spiking unemployment.
These programs brought relief to many Americans.
But with massive government spending, comes opportunity for waste, fraud, and abuse.
Unfortunately, Democrats conducted little oversight of the over $2 trillion spent under the CARES Act.
They did the exact opposite.
They spent another $2 trillion, but this time, with absolutely no protections or guardrails to prevent waste.
And worse, they spent this money when there was no sign that it was needed.
This out-of-control spending led to 40-year high inflation, kept people out of work longer, and harmed the economy.
During the markup of this legislation, many of us warned that without oversight mechanisms in place, taxpayer dollars were at risk of being misused and lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
Republican amendments would have put strings attached on these dollars. They would have allowed for oversight.
But Democrats voted down every single amendment we offered.
And what happens if there is no oversight? Nothing good.
We have seen reports that between $163 to $400 billion in unemployment insurance benefits were paid out improperly.
We have seen reports that between $76 to more than $100 billion in Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury and Disaster Loans were lost to improper payments.
We have seen reports that $266 billion in improper payments were made by Medicaid during the pandemic.
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.
This Committee will evaluate the hundreds of billions of dollars of grants and loans doled out from nearly every agency in the federal government, to ensure those funds were appropriately used to respond to the pandemic, and not wasted on ineligible payees or unrelated matters.
We will investigate the $189 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, money meant to help reopen schools and address learning loss. Instead, these funds were often used on unrelated expenditures, and even to push divisive ideologies onto our students.
We will work to ensure that the watchdogs in our Offices of Inspectors General and our law enforcement officers, agents, and prosecutors have the tools they need to track down fraudsters and recover illegally obtained COVID-19 taxpayer funds.
This Committee has for too long stood on the sidelines while taxpayer dollars were wasted by bureaucrats whose only priority is getting money out the door.
Today we will hear from Inspector General Michael Horowitz, GAO’s Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, and Assistant Director David Smith with the Office of Investigations at the Secret Service.
Thank you for being here to testify about your efforts to conduct oversight of pandemic spending.
I yield to Ranking Member Raskin for his opening statement.