“The public can be assured that every decision was made in a professional manner,” said Casey Smith, a department spokesperson. In all, the department said it received an average of 2,800 waiver applications per day while the program was open, for a total of 42,380 requests.
Still, DeFoor said his auditors did not find evidence that outside influence, whether from legislators or lobbyists, impacted the administration’s final decisions on which businesses could remain open. Though such interventions may have led the administration to respond or consider a request more quickly, auditors determined they did not appear to have “undue influence” on final rulings. “This audit revealed a flawed process that provided inconsistent answers to business owners and caused confusion,” said DeFoor, a Republican elected to office last year.
In a statement, the Department of Community and Economic Development, which administered the program, reiterated that it was dealing with an unprecedented situation that required its staff to make quick and fair decisions on thousands of applications. Though the program was well-intentioned — designed to provide relief to businesses during the tumultuous early months of the pandemic shutdown — it was confusing and lacked both transparency and accountability, Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy L. DeFoor said Tuesday in revealing the inquiry’s much-anticipated results.
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