by Katherine McIntire Peters – govexec.com – March 24, 2010 – The unprecedented federal spending spurred by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spawned an equally unprecedented effort to make sure the nearly $800 billion in stimulus funds authorized by the law were not misused. That oversight effort, and the lessons learned from it, will have far-reaching benefits for agency inspectors general and taxpayers, said federal auditors charged with uncovering contractor waste, fraud and abuse, on Tuesday.
Of particular benefit is the Recovery Operations Center, a kind of intelligence clearinghouse for information about contractors and the risk they represent. It creates for the first time a central repository for contractor information available to all 29 federal inspectors general.
Director Doug Hassebrock said the operations center screens stimulus recipients using risk models to determine where to focus auditing efforts. Using open-source records, federal watch lists, and public-information aggregators like Lexis-Nexis, analysts at the center try to determine any nonobvious, but important associations company principals might have that should garner greater attention from federal investigators.
“Think of this as a lead factory. Our job is to come up with what we see as high-risk recipients or projects,” he told attendees of a federal financial management conference in Washington. Hassebrock also is assistant director of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the body overseeing stimulus spending.
Hassebrock gave a recent example of the center’s work: When analysts searched the DUNS number of one particular company — the unique nine-digit number agencies use to track spending — “it came up clean as a whistle, no problems at all,” he said.
“However, the other dozen DUNS numbers the company is associated with all have been debarred from federal service for fraud,” Hassebrock added. “On the day the parent company was debarred [a subsidiary company] got a Recovery Act contract and two more the day after.”
Companies debarred from doing business with the federal government can circumvent that by setting up a new company under an associate. “All you’ve got to do is have your spouse or your neighbor down the street or whoever you want open up a company with a new DUNS number and you’re back in business,” he said.
Besides collecting and analyzing data, the center also shares information among the 29 federal inspectors general. If an IG calls the center with concerns about a particular contractor, officials can determine if other agencies also have had problems with the contractor and share that information, so the two agencies can coordinate an investigation if appropriate.
“As basic as that sounds, you’d be amazed that [was not happening]. It’s very powerful — you have 29 IGs focused together against similar targets,” Hassebrock said.
The center has been a “phenomenal” help to agency IGs, said Richard Skinner, Homeland Security Department IG and vice chairman of the Recovery Board. “The center’s legacy will live well beyond the Recovery Board.”
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