Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., delivers his opening statement during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in September 2020.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., delivers his opening statement during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in September 2020. Alex Edelman/Pool via AP

House Republicans Call for Accounting of Unused COVID Relief Funds 

Effort seeks to bolster transparency and accountability as Congress and the president are working to pass the next aid package. 

House Republicans introduced a resolution on Monday that would require President Biden to provide a full accounting of unspent COVID relief funds within 14 days of enactment to promote transparency and accountability. 

Republicans on the House Budget and House Oversight and Reform committees introduced the resolution as Democratic lawmakers and President Biden are working to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. They are using budget reconciliation, a process that would allow the legislation to pass with just a simple majority of Senate votes (51 as opposed to 60). 

“Congress has already spent over $4 trillion in bipartisan relief bills, but Democrats are trying to rush a partisan $2 trillion bill out the door with no accounting about how much funding already provided remains unused,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, in a press release on Tuesday. “Before Democrats even attempt to spend another dime of taxpayers’ dollars, Congress needs the facts first to prevent government waste, fraud and abuse.”

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said, “It would be irresponsible to pass trillions more in spending when Congress does not even have a thorough and accurate accounting of the trillions of dollars already approved.” The Republican lawmakers would like the full accounting from the five coronavirus funding bills passed between March and December 2020. 

Transparency and oversight have been big focuses in the federal government’s response to the pandemic due to the unprecedented amount of money spent. The CARES Act, passed last March, established a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and Congressional Oversight Commission to supplement inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office and other oversight entities. 

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group advocating fiscal responsibility, said that, as of January 22, at least $2.7 trillion of the $4 trillion of relief funds (over two-thirds) had been committed or disbursed. 

“But the question of how much relief money remains is a complicated one,” the group said in a post on January 27. “Subtracting the amounts allowed from the amount committed or disbursed yields a figure of $1.3 trillion — but that does not mean that $1.3 trillion is sitting in budget accounts waiting to be allocated. Much of it is already allocated or scheduled to be spent, and a small portion will never be spent.” About 60% of the $1.3 trillion comes from the relief package enacted in late December, according to the report. 

Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, government affairs manager for the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, told Government Executive that on one hand, “there is a real need for better accounting of what has been spent and what’s been appropriated, but hasn't yet been obligated” since “there are some pretty wide gaps in a lot of the reporting and accounting around COVID spending and COVID relief.” However, on the other, “ it does seem a little bit odd that [the lawmakers] seem to care about it a lot more now that there is a new administration.” 

Hedtler-Gaudette said if the resolution is not approved, the White House could do this accounting on its own. Also, the Office of Management and Budget could revoke the guidance issued under the Trump administration in April 2020 that he said allowed agencies to ignore some of the provisions of the CARES Act. 

Alexandra Weinroth, spokesperson for the House Budget Committee Democrats, said the resolution wasn’t referred to their committee, “but if Republicans are suggesting Congress let relief run completely dry before taking additional and necessary action, that is reckless and shortsighted.” The office of the House Oversight and Reform Committee chair did not respond for comment.