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Defining Program Integrity

Covid-19 assistance was rife with fraud, but an opportunity exists to learn hard lessons and strengthen program integrity across government.

Arnold Ventures’ Program Integrity Fellow Doug Criscitello has been examining federal programs for decades at multiple government agencies including the CBO, OMB, HUD, and SBA. We’re thrilled to have him as our fellow in Public Finance. And he’s already identifying ways to maximize opportunity and minimize injustice with a new op-ed for GovExec on the topic of program integrity.

When the Covid-19 pandemic opened the floodgates for government support, millions of people got the support they needed, but in addition, fraudsters were ready to take advantage of the moment. Although sizing the extent of fraud has proven difficult, it appears hundreds of billions of dollars were needlessly added to the national debt due to the government’s inability to prevent the nefarious actions of fraudsters. 

In the early, frenzied days of the pandemic, agencies were at times compelled to relax internal controls or hastily craft program regulations contributing to an intolerable level of fraud and abuse in the distribution of aid,” Criscitello writes. The incidence of fraud of this magnitude not only costs taxpayers but it weakens trust in government and calls into question the government’s ability to meet one of its core duties, to promote the general welfare, during times of national emergencies.” 

Criscitello points out that staggering level of fraud coupled with mounting concerns about the size and trajectory of the nation’s debt load should elevate program integrity as a top management focus, not only to thwart the fraudsters but to ensure every taxpayer dollar is spent effectively.” With the nation’s debt load at about $33 trillion, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure federal programs are implemented with care, with one eye on waste, fraud, and abuse and the other on program effectiveness. 

A more holistic approach to program integrity involves many points along the lifecycle of a public program: from gaining a thorough understanding of statutory requirements and objectives to delivering a program in a way that meets the needs of intended beneficiaries while safeguarding taxpayer interests.” 

Read his op-ed here.