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Lawmakers propose extending pandemic analytics center beyond 2025 sunset

Oversight officials say that the Pandemic Analytics Center of Excellence needs to survive past the looming sunset date, unlike a similar analytics center used to oversee stimulus spending that shuttered in 2015.

There is new reason to hope for the government watchdogs that have been imploring lawmakers to extend the life of the data analytics center set up for pandemic spending oversight beyond its sunset date next year. 

Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah introduced a proposal March 21 to keep the analytics center — called the Pandemic Analytics Center of Excellence, or PACE — beyond the looming sunset date.

The bill would establish the Government Spending Oversight Committee to help inspectors general with data and analytics within the existing Council of Inspectors General. It would be charged with supporting oversight by offering data analytics, sharing and tools.

In early 2020, Congress established the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, or PRAC, to oversee pandemic spending. Within it lives the PACE, the analytics platform meant to support oversight officials in their efforts by pulling together data sources with enhanced analytical tools. 

Although the PRAC is set to end next fall, oversight officials have been asking lawmakers to extend the life of the analytics center so that it's ready for use in the next crisis. A similar analytical center was set up to oversee 2009 stimulus spending, but it dissolved in 2015. 

“It would be a wasted opportunity to allow this fraud fighting tool to expire, as happened with the Recovery Operations Center in 2015,” Michael Horowitz, chair of the PRAC and inspector general for the Justice Department, said in a statement about the new bill.

The closure of that analytics center, called the ROC, was felt when the pandemic hit, oversight officials say. 

“We had to recreate the PACE from scratch, which we wouldn’t have had to do if the ROC hadn’t gone away,” said Linda Miller, former executive director of the PRAC and now the founder and CEO of Audient Group consultancy.

The successor proposed in the bill would be able to continue to oversee pandemic spending, but also dig into newer spending programs passed by Congress, including the CHIPS and Science Act, Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

Currently, the PACE draws on over 150,000,000 lines of data in both public and non-public federal spending datasets and uses robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and risk models to find red flags among the $1.9 trillion in pandemic-related spending.

The proposal has the support of Gene Dodaro, head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office. GAO has previously recommended that Congress establish a permanent analytical center for fraud and improper payments. The Biden administration also asked Congress to set up a permanent data analytics platform in a 2023 anti-fraud proposal. 

The introduction of the bill follows the inclusion of $2 million in funding for the PRAC to use for data analytics in the recently passed appropriations package. 

In a statement, Horowitz called the funding “critically important to preserve and enhance the PRAC’s data analytics function that has demonstrated its ability to prevent fraud and improper payments, and to assist law enforcement in pursuing billions of dollars in fraud.”

A spokesperson for Democrats on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee told Nextgov/FCW that they “are considering legislative options to ensure the capacity and capability of the PACE are retained going forward.”

A Republican spokesperson for the same committee said in a statement that “the Oversight Committee supports the work of the PRAC bringing much needed anti-fraud analytical capabilities and data resources to the broader Inspectors General community.”