Fraud Watchdog Promises Prosecution of Feds Who Got Pandemic Unemployment, Loans While Working for Government

Fraud Watchdog Promises Prosecution of Feds Who Got Pandemic Unemployment, Loans While Working for Government
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs during a hearing at the Capitol on Dec. 18, 2019. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott

Federal employees who fraudulently applied for and received COVID-19 pandemic unemployment insurance benefits while also drawing government paychecks will be referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution, according to a waste, fraud, and abuse watchdog.

“How is it even possible that there is nothing in place to cross-check these employees, or do we just pay out these benefits to whomever applies?” Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Mo.) asked.

Michael Horowitz told the Feb. 1 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability that his office is aggressively pursuing investigations and will recommend prosecutions to the DOJ.

Burlison was referring to a Jan. 30 statement by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) calling for an investigation of the “tens of thousands” of federal workers who she claimed fraudulently sought and received pandemic relief benefits, including unemployment checks and loans intended to help small businesses survive during the nationwide economic slowdown of 2020 due to COVID-19.
“Staff from numerous government agencies, including the IRSTSA [Transportation Security Administration]FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], the U.S. Postal ServiceAmtrak, and the Secret Service, have been detected receiving jobless benefits while also being on the federal government’s payroll,” Ernst said in the statement.

“Some were even paid overtime at the same time [that they were] claiming to have lost wages due to the pandemic. Others were so blatant, they actually applied for jobless benefits from their work computers.”

Horowitz said in response to Burlison, “One of the challenges is in fact cross-checking information, and that has been a problem across programs. I am aware of Senator Ernst’s letter and we’re following up on that.”

Horowitz is the DOJ inspector general and chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC).

“We do have cases that are moving forward as a result of that, but it has taken a considerable amount of time to get from the larger number to the smaller number because of the absence of particularized data. The challenge has been agency data not being sufficient to immediately figure this out. When we find a case, we start investigating it. We’re working with our law enforcement partners, and hopefully, those cases will end up being prosecuted,” he said.

Ernst told The Epoch Times: “It’s no surprise that hundreds of billions of dollars from pandemic programs were so easily looted when bureaucrats themselves were treating civil service as self-service. I am very encouraged by PRAC Chair Horowitz’s pledge to pursue these cases to the fullest extent possible and prosecute all those who pilfered public funds. As the top Republican on the Senate Small Business Committee, I will do my part to ensure he has all the tools necessary to do so.”

The Burlison–Horowitz exchange regarding the Ernst call for an investigation came during the Feb. 1 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability titled “Federal Pandemic Spending: A Prescription for Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.” It was the first hearing by the panel since Republicans regained the House majority in the November 2022 midterm election.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) told the hearing that at least $500 billion in pandemic relief funds went to individuals and businesses that were ineligible.

The lost funds constitute “the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history,” Comer said.

Asked by Burlison for a timetable for his investigation of the federal workers receiving the pandemic benefits at the same time they were receiving government paychecks, Horowitz said the process is slow-going, in great part because of the inability to cross-check the federal payroll and lists of benefit recipients.

Even when partial data is available, it takes time to sort out cases that appear to involve fraud but don’t, Horowitz said.

“We have done that, for example, at DOJ. I’ve looked at some of these issues, and it takes a fair amount of time once you get hits to figure out actually whether there are fraud cases or not. This is because there are, for example, spouses who were potentially eligible. We’ve also identified situations where the addresses turned out to be apartment buildings, so you have to figure out who else [is] in that building, whether it’s actually a hit or not. There are things we need to do to make sure we’ve got the right data, but it’s an important issue, and we are following up on it,” he said.

“We’re going to pursue those cases to the fullest extent possible, including seeking prosecutions; we’re working with our law enforcement partners on it. We have several on the [pandemic relief loan] side, including for example, a relatively high-level person at NASA who was sentenced to a considerable number of years in prison, who worked in their financial office. We’re pursuing those cases.”

Horowitz didn’t name the individual at NASA.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, began in March 2020 and has killed more than 1 million Americans and 6 million people worldwide since that year. The United States imposed unprecedented measures in response that all but brought the economy to a halt, costing millions of jobs, leaving legions of Americans struggling to buy food and gas and restricting normal outdoor life for months on end.

The nation remains on official alert for a federally proclaimed Public Health Emergency (PHE). House Republicans on Jan. 31 passed legislation declaring the PHE ended as soon as the measure is signed into law. However, the measure still must be passed by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden, who has said he will end the PHE on May 11, 2023.
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning senior Congressional correspondent for The Epoch Times. He covers Congress, national politics, and policy. Mr. Tapscott previously worked for Washington Times, Washington Examiner, Montgomery Journal, and Daily Caller News Foundation.
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