On February 7, President Biden gave the State of the Union address. In his speech, he referenced last year’s address in which he proclaimed, “The watchdogs are back!” and re-emphasized his commitment to fighting fraud, like pandemic relief and identity fraud.
“…as we emerge from this crisis stronger, I’m also doubling down on prosecuting criminals who stole relief money meant to keep workers and small businesses afloat during the pandemic,” Biden said in his address. This appears to be a continuation of his comments in his 2022 State of the Union, in which he talked about empowering watchdogs to investigate fraud related to COVID-19 relief programs.
WNN has previously reported on pandemic-related fraud and whistleblowers. Several whistleblowers have drawn attention to fraud related to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was established with the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to aid small businesses during the pandemic. Eligible businesses could apply to receive loans to keep employees on the payroll or cope with other pandemic-related hardships. In September of 2022, a milestone was passed with the first settlement related to a qui tam False Claims Act case that centered around PPP fraud.
In his 2023 State of the Union address, Biden said: “Before I came to office many inspector generals who protect taxpayer dollars were sidelined. Fraud was rampant.” He mentioned his previous claims, stating, “Last year, I told you the watchdogs are back. Since then, we’ve recovered billions of taxpayer dollars.”
Biden also appeared to look to the future, telling the audience: “Now, let’s triple our anti-fraud strike forces going after these criminals, double the statute of limitations on these crimes, and crack down on identity fraud by criminal syndicates stealing billions of dollars from the American people.”
“For every dollar we put into fighting fraud, taxpayers get back at least ten times as much,” he added.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently publicized the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 statistics for settlements and judgments under the False Claims Act. Under the qui tam provisions of the Act, private citizens can file lawsuits alleging false claims on behalf of the government. If the government prevails in a qui tam lawsuit, the whistleblower can receive between 15 and 30 percent of the monies recovered.
In FY 2022, “whistleblower lawsuits led to over $1.9 billion in recoveries, and qui tam whistleblowers won a combined total of $448 million,” WNN reported.
The U.S. government can choose to intervene in qui tam cases and take them over or not. Whistleblower experts have expressed worry regarding the number of cases in which the government intervened in FY 2022. Whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto (KKC) wrote about his disappointment that the DOJ “recovered only $776 million in False Claims Act (FCA) whistleblower cases in which it intervened, the lowest total since 2004. In contrast, FCA whistleblower cases where the DOJ did not intervene resulted in a record $1.1 billion in recoveries, according to statistics released by the DOJ on February 7.” Read more about the False Claims Act in FY 2022 here.
In his address, Biden also referenced accountability for social media platforms, an issue that has been in the public eye in the past couple years. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen drew attention to the issue of child safety on social media. For the last State of the Union address, Biden specifically recognized Haugen, whom Dr. Jill Biden invited to the event.
Read President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address here.