Murphy to open Disaster Recovery Office — says it will track (and be transparent about) every federal dollar N.J. receives

For weeks, opponents have complained Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has been slow to dole out the $2.4 billion the state received in federal CARES Act money.

On Friday, Murphy explained the reason for the delay — and that he has created the Governor’s Disaster Recovery Office, which will serve as the center point of contact and coordination for COVID-19 recovery programs funded through the CARES Act and other sources of federal funds.

“The office will ensure that all funds are expended in compliance with federal rules and regulations, and that strategies and policies are aligned across all state departments,” he said. “I am further requiring the creation of a transparency website to track the office’s progress, and, independently of that site, I will require an annual report to be produced.

“Additionally, I am creating a COVID-19 Compliance Task Force to review all COVID-related procurements above a certain dollar threshold, ensure internal controls and provide compliance training to all agencies receiving COVID-19 funds.”

Murphy, speaking at his regular COVID-19 briefing, said the state has plans for the money — but that making sure all of the uses are in compliance with the extensive federal mandates that come with the cash has slowed its distribution.

He said the executive order will provide greater assurance that the federal coronavirus relief funds the state is receiving will be spent expeditiously, properly and transparently.

Murphy said the office essentially replaces and assumes the responsibilities of the Office of Recovery and Rebuilding established in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. He said Daniel Kelly, executive director of the Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, will lead the office, while acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh will lead the Compliance Task Force.

Murphy said the task force also will establish an Integrity Oversight Monitoring program, with a pool of outside vendors to ensure agencies guard against fraud, waste and abuse of any COVID-19 funds. Integrity monitors will submit quarterly reports to the Disaster Recovery Office, the attorney general, the comptroller and both the Senate president and Assembly speaker, as well as post them online, he said.

Murphy said the $2.4 billion the state received marks the better part of the funds the state has received, but the state also has received dollars from other federal programs that need oversight. And Murphy said he’s still looking for more.

“We are fighting for every possible penny of COVID-19 relief — and every penny we receive and properly invest in our recovery is one we do not have to borrow,” he said. “We are putting in place the oversight we need for this moment, to give the public greater confidence in our work, and to ensure that our restart and recovery moves forward.”

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