Note: this article, featuring Government Accountability Project, was originally published here.
Wyden Co-Sponsors Bills to Protect COVID-19 Funding Abuse Whistleblowers
WASHINGTON (KTVZ) — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Tuesday he is co-sponsoring legislation that would ensure whistleblower protections for people who expose misuse of government funds intended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whistleblowers play a key role in sounding the alarm whenever there’s wrongdoing by scam artists and cheaters scheming to cover up their tracks,” Wyden said. “This bill extends essential whistleblower protections to non-federal employees who report waste, fraud and abuse in coronavirus-related spending that’s diverted from its intended recipients – the front-line workers and small businesses who need those resources during this economic and public health crisis.”
In addition to Wyden, other Senate co-sponsors of the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) are are Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
The legislation would achieve the following:
- Institutes strong whistleblower protections for employees or former employees of recipients of funds under the CARES Act or other similar legislation meant to address COVID-19.
- Protects disclosures related to relief funds that stand as evidence of gross mismanagement or waste, danger to public health or safety, abuse of authority, or violation of law, rule or regulation.
- Creates a legal framework that provides administrative relief in which the Department of Labor can investigate whistleblower retaliation claims from non-federal employees or contractors under a strengthened legal framework.
- If administrative relief is not timely provided, whistleblowers will have access to jury trials in federal court, a best practice standard for modern whistleblower protection laws.
- Protects whistleblower confidentiality and protects against gag orders.
The bill is endorsed by American Civil Liberties Union, ACORN 8, Government Accountability Project, National Whistleblower Center, Public Citizen, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Project on Government Oversight, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and Whistleblowers of America.
Bill text is here.
A one-page summary of the bill is here.
On a related COVID-19 topic, Wyden announced he is co-sponsoring legislation that would provide additional transparency and accountability to the federal government’s COVID-19 small business relief efforts.
“Oregon is overwhelmingly a small business state, and it’s essential those small businesses powering our state’s economy get the help they need to weather the financial storm touched off by coronavirus,” said Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. “This legislation ensures those small businesses creating jobs throughout Oregon receive that urgent relief by requiring federal agencies are transparent about all the federal resources that Congress intended for small businesses, ensuring larger and wealthier corporations aren’t benefiting from the shadows to siphon off funds they don’t need.”
The Transparency and Oversight of COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Assistance Act would require the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide Congress and the public with timely, detailed data on the agency’s COVID-19 small business relief programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Emergency Grants Program, and the Debt Relief Program.
On April 17, Wyden, U.S. Sens Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y. sent a letter to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging the administration officials to provide American taxpayers detailed data on how small business relief funds are being distributed.
In addition to Wyden, the Transparency and Oversight of COVID–19 Small Business Assistance Act is sponsored by Cardin, Shaheen and Schumer. The bill would require the Trump administration to provide Congress and the public with timely, detailed data on the COVID-19 small business relief programs. Specifically, the bill would require the administration to do the following:
- issue a daily report detailing total loans and grants approved and disbursed in PPP, the EIDL and Emergency Grants Programs, and the Debt Relief Program, as well as total remaining funds available and an estimate of when the funds will be depleted;
- release a weekly report detailing the lending trends in the program broken down by geography, demographics, loan sizes, industry, lender type; and lender and broker fees;
- make the data on these programs available to the public in a standardized and downloadable format, including information SBA currently publishes such as names and addresses of the businesses, nonprofits, and lenders, the loan or grant amounts;
- clarify that sensitive personal information of recipients such as social security numbers is protected; and,
- provide Congress with a report showing how SBA and Treasury are using the $2.7 billion in administrative funding appropriated to the agencies to identify and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the programs and implement the programs.
The bill also would require the Government Accountability Office to submit a report to Congress evaluating if the administration’s implementation of the provisions effectively reached underbanked and underserved borrowers, including a comprehensive review of the daily and weekly data, and compare PPP lending and processes by top banks to mission lenders.