The US Department of Treasury serves many functions, which include dispensing and collecting tax dollars. The Bureau of Fiscal Service, a division of Treasury, collects and dispenses handles this function of Treasury.
With regard to dispensing money, Bureau of Fiscal Service, to be referred to as BFS, pays independent contractors to be the conduit to pay benefits to a select group of Social Security and Veteran benefit recipients. These payments are made to debit cards, and each debit card program has a bank which oversees the dispensation of the funds. The banks which dispense funds are identified as “Fiscal Agents” of BFS.
Many persons receiving VA disability benefits, and those receiving Social Security benefits, receive their monthly payments on a debit card which was a program developed as the Direct Express program, and the card is a Direct Express debit card. When a person applies for either of these benefits, they have an option to have their monthly payment placed into a bank account or on the Direct Express debit card. The reason some choose to use the Direct Express debit card is because they have no bank account, cannot get a bank account, or simply choose to use the debit card.
Comerica Bank is the Fiscal Agent for the Direct Express program, and has been the only Fiscal Agent since the inception of the program in 2008. Comerica Bank has three times been named the Fiscal Agent of this program in spite of two scathing OIG Treasury reports (14-031 and 17-034) along with the interim report published on July 29,2019 (19-041).
In November 2018, BFS made the announcement that bids from banks were to be received for the new Fiscal Agent agreement to be named in May, 2019. After “qualifying” the potential candidate banks, BFS announced around March of 2019 that “oral presentations” would be accepted by prospective banks before a BFS “Evaluation Team.” Direct Express cardholder victims of fraud and Regulation E (15USC1693) violations by Comerica Bank submitted written requests to BFS to be allowed to make a presentment to this Evaluation Team.
Thomas Santaniello, the representative of BFS, refused to allow any citizen and/or victims of the BFS program to address the Evaluation Team. A request to identify the members of this group was ignored.
A formal investigation of BFS and an audit of BFS and its Direct Express program (including Comerica Bank) were being conducted at the same time the evaluation process of choosing the new Fiscal Agent was being conducted. May 16, 2019 passed, and the naming of the new Fiscal Agent was postponed indefinitely.
Special Counsel of OIG Treasury began a new investigation of thirty (30) Direct Express cardholder victims around October 2019. Therefore, three investigations of BFS were being conducted as BFS was deciding the new, or incumbent, Fiscal Agent.
An inquiry was made to Thomas Santaneillo of BFS by a congressional staffer of member of the US House of representatives. One of the questions to Santaniello was this:
“Q3. How much is Treasury currently paying to Comerica to manage each Direct Express Account? (I have heard $5 and $2—which is accurate?) Also was this fee written into the original Fiscal Agent Agreement between Comerica and the Treasury?”
“A3. The exact fees paid to Financial Agents are confidential commercial information and/or trade secrets of the Financial Agent and therefore not for public dissemination. “
Not only was BFS, and its watchdog Santaniello, not willing to allow victims of a BFS program to address the group which was to name the next or incumbent Fiscal Agent, Santaniello refused to tell a congressional staffer how much money BFS was paying Comerica Bank as the Fiscal Agent of the Direct Express program.
Tom Gribben, who became the new commissioner of BFS in mid 2019 has yet to address the current lack of transparency of BFS. The prior lack of transparency of BFS was exposed by Michael Clements of the General Accounting Office (GAO) 17-176 dated January 25, 2017. The lack of integrity and transparency of BFS is not new.
In early January 2020, BFS awarded the new Fiscal Agent contract to Comerica Bank while the three investigations continued. The justification of this award has yet to be published.
It is hard to believe Santaniello could unilaterally prohibit victims of a BFS program from addressing BFS, and also refuse to answer a question from a congressional staffer with respect to money paid to Comerica Bank. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Mr. Gribben condoned this refusal by Santaniello to be accountable to the victims of a BFS program or to any citizen. Is Mr. Gribben “out of the loop” as the new commissioner?
Payment to government contractors through BFS should not be secret. Victims of BFS should be able to voice their opinions and present evidence of their disapproval. It appears BFS is scared other “evidence” will arise.