Publicly Released: September 29, 2022
The objective of this audit was to determine whether U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Indo‑Pacific Command officials used Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to support the coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID‑19) pandemic response and operations in accordance with Federal laws and DoD policies. This report focused on USSOUTHCOM’s execution of CARES Act funding. We issued separate reports on the execution of CARES Act funding by the U.S. Africa Command and the U.S. Indo‑Pacific Command. See Appendix A for details on the audit scope and methodology.
USSOUTHCOM is one of seven DoD geographic combatant commands and is headquartered in Doral, Florida. USSOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility covers 31 countries and 16 dependencies and areas of special sovereignty across Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
COVID‑19 is an infectious disease that can cause a wide spectrum of symptoms. In March 2020, the President of the United States declared the COVID‑19 outbreak an emergency and signed the CARES Act, which provided $10.5 billion in supplemental funding for the DoD’s COVID‑19 response. DoD CARES Act funds were primarily intended to prepare for, prevent, and respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic, domestically and internationally.
Army and Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) officials provided $70.69 million in CARES Act funds to USSOUTHCOM—$675,000 for 8 information technology (IT) equipment projects and $70.01 million for 227 projects to enhance the medical capabilities of USSOUTHCOM partner nations. USSOUTHCOM officials executed $69.90 million in CARES Act funds to support these 235 projects. We reviewed all 8 IT equipment projects and 77 out of 227 humanitarian assistance projects based on a random, nonstatistical sampling methodology.
CARES Act funding guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, DoD—requires that USSOUTHCOM officials maintain evidence for goods and services acquired in response to COVID‑19. The guidance further states that adequate evidence must include clear and accurate data of sufficient quality that articulates the need for the acquired goods and services for the COVID‑19 pandemic response.
USSOUTHCOM officials generally used CARES Act funds to support COVID‑19 pandemic response and operations in accordance with Federal laws and DoD policies. Specifically, for 83 of the 85 projects reviewed, USSOUTHCOM officials used $32.34 million in CARES Act funds to prepare for, prevent, and respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic. USSOUTHCOM officials justified the use of CARES Act funds for:
- 8 IT equipment projects, valued at $675,000, to purchase laptops, laptop docking stations, mobile communication kits, monitors, headsets, cameras, common access card readers, and other equipment for USSOUTHCOM users in support of the increased telework environment; and
- 75 humanitarian assistance projects, valued at $31.67 million, primarily to refurbish and build medical facilities and to purchase mobile field hospitals, portable hand wash stations, medical equipment, personal protective equipment, and medical and cleaning supplies for communities at high risk for COVID‑19 infection across the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility.
However, for the two remaining projects reviewed, USSOUTHCOM officials used $1.10 million in CARES Act funds to construct maternity wards, a purpose that did not meet the requirements of the CARES Act, because the DSCA did not require geographic combatant commands to obtain approval before changing the funding source of previously approved humanitarian assistance projects. As a result of this audit, USSOUTHCOM officials corrected the projects’ funding source.
In addition, USSOUTHCOM officials committed $2.11 million in DoD humanitarian assistance and disaster relief funds for 10 projects before obtaining the DSCA’s concurrence to execute costs more than 10 percent above the approved project amounts because the DSCA and USSOUTHCOM lacked controls to reinforce the requirement for additional DSCA review and concurrence. USSOUTHCOM officials stated that they overlooked the DSCA requirement due to the large number of projects they had to execute within 11 months of receiving the CARES Act funds.
Following existing requirements and establishing additional controls can help the DSCA and USSOUTHCOM improve oversight over humanitarian assistance projects and ensure that future emergency funding will be executed in accordance with Federal laws and DoD policies. The proper execution of USSOUTHCOM’s CARES Act funds strengthens the public trust in the DoD’s ability to safeguard taxpayer dollars and provides Congress with greater assurance that CARES Act funds were spent to address DoD requirements and partner nation requests for the COVID‑19 pandemic response.
We recommend that the DSCA Director require geographic combatant commands to obtain DSCA approval before changing the funding source of an approved humanitarian assistance project to reprogrammed funds with a limited and defined funding purpose. We also recommend that the DSCA Director and the USSOUTHCOM Humanitarian Assistance Program Manager implement internal controls that reinforce the requirement to obtain DSCA concurrence for cost increases that exceed 10 percent of the approved project amounts. In addition, we recommend that the USSOUTHCOM Humanitarian Assistance Program Manager take steps to ensure the combatant command submits changes in project funding for DSCA and USSOUTHCOM approval, and documents the resulting decision.
Management Comments and Our Response
The DSCA Director and the USSOUTHCOM Comptroller, responding for the USSOUTHCOM Humanitarian Assistance Program Manager, agreed to implement controls that ensure the DSCA approves changes in the funding source and cost of humanitarian assistance projects. The USSOUTHCOM Comptroller also agreed to develop and implement a matrix that identifies projects requiring additional DSCA review and approval before increasing project costs. The comments from the DSCA Director and USSOUTHCOM Comptroller addressed the specifics of the recommendations. Therefore, the recommendations are resolved but remain open. We will close the three recommendations when we verify that the information provided and agreed‑upon actions fully address the recommendations.
This report is the result of Project No. D2021-D000RH-0142.002.