The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has concluded an audit to assess the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) policies and procedures for awarding and overseeing COVID-19 support grants.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided the FAA with $10 billion to help airports deal with the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. The FAA awarded $9.1 billion in grants to airports nationwide, using its existing Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to distribute the funds.
OIG found that leveraging the AIP allowed the FAA to announce CARES Act awards for more than 3,000 airports in just two weeks. However, changes in the Agency’s oversight process regarding supporting documentation requirements affected its ability to monitor program performance, and the watchdog determined at the time of its review that it contributed to more than $271 million in unsupported costs, $85 million in questioned costs, and $3 million of improper payments.
OIG also found that the FAA did not establish procedures for deobligating CARES Act grants that become inactive, exceed the period of performance, or provide airport sponsors with adequate guidance on documenting workforce retention data. According to OIG, these internal control weaknesses hindered the FAA’s ability to ensure that it is operating the program as Congress intended, administering projects in a fiscally responsible manner, and achieving reporting and compliance objectives.
OIG made seven recommendations to improve the FAA’s oversight of COVID relief funds:
- Assess the risk of improper payment for debt service, payroll, operating and maintenance expenses, and CARES Act reimbursement requests, and revise the FAA’s policy on supporting documentation requirements to account for risk level.
- Request supporting documentation for the transactions related to the $271 million in unsupported costs OIG identified, and collect all unsupported costs or identify the FAA’s rationale for accepting them.
- Assess transactions related to the $85 million OIG identified in grant recipients’ improper use of funds due to noncompliance with law or ineligible use of funds, and recover unallowable reimbursements.
- Recover the $3.3 million for services rendered or payment that was due prior to the allowable period.
- Develop and implement a plan to encourage recipients to expend CARES Act funds.
- Review workforce retention data provided by sponsors, and update records as needed to ensure compliance with law.
- Develop a plan for implementing future workforce retention requirements as a condition of grants-in-aid based on best practices and lessons learned from prior efforts.
The FAA concurred with recommendations 5-7 but only partially concurred with the other four. FAA did not agree with the actual amounts of more than $271 million in unsupported costs, $85 million in questioned costs, and $3 million in improper payments that OIG identified, saying that the watchdog’s methodology was flawed and its work incomplete.