The largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history was enacted on March 27. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act (CARES Act) provides economic relief for individuals, businesses, and industries affected by the pandemic. The $2 trillion package contains some key provisions for public data and evidence-building activities.
$500 million to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for Public Health Surveillance.
In addition to its other core funding, the CDC will receive $500 million for public health surveillance and analytics infrastructure, providing more timely and accurate health data. In its open letter to Congress, the Data Coalition highlighted ways that the system for compiling national COVID-19 test data and relevant health data could be improved. Using existing data infrastructure, an improved reporting system with basic data standards could be implemented to ensure timely reporting of test results and relevant vital records.
In addition to health surveillance, the National Center for Health Statistics, housed within the CDC, can improve capabilities in the Electronic Death Reporting System and work with states to improve their reporting capacity.
The bill includes multiple bodies to provide oversight on the large sums of money spent in the bill. These oversight bodies will provide accountability and will help connect federal spending to outcomes.
- Pandemic Response Accountability Committee
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) will be made up of independent Inspectors General (IG) who will conduct and coordinate audits and investigations to prevent and identify waste, fraud, and abuse under the CARES Act. The Committee will consist of 10 inspectors general from the Department of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor and the Treasury, as well as the inspector general of the Small Business Administration and the Treasury’s Tax Administration. Glenn Fine, the acting IG for the Department of Defense, will chair the committee. PRAC was given an $80 million budget and will be required to make public reports through Oversight.gov on their findings and requires agencies to report information about spending under the bill. This structure closely mirrors the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board established by the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
- Congressional Oversight Commission
The Congressional Oversight Commission will consist of five members, appointed by Congressional leaders that have yet to be named. This Commission has the authority to conduct oversight of the stimulus package by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve and will have the ability to conduct hearings, take testimony and issue reports, the first one of which will be due 30 days after the Treasury disburses funds. The Commission will operate until the end of FY 2025.
- Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery
This new Special Inspector General will be established at the Treasury Department and have jurisdiction over audits and investigations by the Secretary of the Treasury under any CARES Act program. This new Special Inspector General will be able to refer matters to the Department of Justice for both criminal and civil investigations for the next five years.
The CARES Act also provides $340 billion in emergency funding, the bulk of which will go directly to state and local governments. There are additional research funds for the National Institutes of Health ($945.5 million), the National Science Foundation ($76 million), Department of Energy ($99.5 millon) and the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.2 million). The Data Coalition continues to push for funding to be used to implement key provisions of the Evidence Act. Statistical activities, data governance, and program evaluation are vital functions that must be successful across the government to understand the impacts of the policy decisions being made today.
Our country will continue to need valid and reliable data not only about the challenges facing our workers, economy, and health but the effectiveness and efficiencies of our policy interventions. These oversight provisions and appropriations will help ensure that we have the best evidence possible for our policy decisions.