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Stewardship: Spending programs need better oversight

For small businesses and organizations around the country, the emergency loan programs set up by the federal government in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were a godsend. Loans such as those through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program were given at low interest rates — and could be fully forgivable under certain criteria. Certainly, those loans kept afloat some smaller employers who would otherwise have been forced to close up shop.

But the Government Accountability Office — those charged with ensuring the federal government is being a good steward of our taxpayer dollars — says the programs are problematic and susceptible “to improper payments and potential fraud.”

“There’s no doubt they’ve had a positive impact. However, the management of these programs needs to be dramatically improved,” U.S. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro. In fact, by January, the GAO said it still sees delays in getting the information it should have about the loans, including detailed oversight plans and documentation for estimating improper payments.

PPP loans are not the only item on the GAO’s list of high-risk programs this year, however. Federal efforts to prevent substance abuse are there, too. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report actually noted a particular acceleration in drug overdose deaths as widespread mitigation measures kicked in.

Bureaucrats and members of Congress have a responsibility to do right by the American people not only through providing the services for which we pay, but for earning our trust that they will not misspend our money. Programs put in place last year, during an unprecedented challenge for our nation, may have been initiated with the best of intentions, but they seem to have been thrown together sloppily and with few standards or expectations in place. Now it is up to a new crop of elected and appointed officials (but some of the same bureaucrats) to clean up the mess.

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