What Washington can agree on

Massive spending bills like the two infrastructure measures have brought bipartisan attention to preventing fraud.

Members of a band celebrate during a ribbon cutting ceremony to open the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., Sept. 7.

It has been difficult to find much coolheaded bipartisanship during Washington’s hothouse debate over two spending bills on infrastructure. Yet one aspect has drawn many Democratic and Republican lawmakers together. They want honest accounting for such massive spending, which could top $4 trillion. Fraud and waste of taxpayers’ money serve neither party.

One example is a set of bipartisan bills in the Senate to update the False Claims Act. That statute, called the “Lincoln Law” after being enacted during the Civil War, penalizes anyone who files false claims to the government. “In light of the trillions of dollars that Congress has appropriated recently for COVID relief, these bills are needed, more than ever, to fight the significant amounts of fraud that we are already seeing,” says Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.

After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress pumped more than $800 billion into the economy, but with enough transparency and oversight provisions to be called a relative success in preventing fraud and waste. The package included $416 million to increase the number of inspectors general. Investigators were able to recover $11 billion from corrupt diversions of the money.

Similar provisions were put into last year’s CARES Act (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) and other related pandemic relief legislation that hav spent some $5 trillion. Critics wanted even tougher measures, especially in protecting whistleblowers. But the Justice Department has been able to recover at least $2 billion from fraudulent claims.

In addition, the CARES Act set up a special group of federal inspectors general called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. It is now seen as a model in overseeing massive federal programs.

The lesser of the two infrastructure bills in the House does have measures to prevent corruption, such as awarding grants on a competitive basis and allocating money for transparent oversight of spending. Much more can surely be added. But with the recent history of both large and emergency spending since 2008, Washington does have an active and largely bipartisan debate on fraud prevention. Such honest governance may provide a baseline for bipartisanship in passing at least one infrastructure bill.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What Washington can agree on
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today