That royalty relief was supposed to go to wells that would have otherwise shut down because of the sharp decline in oil prices. The idea was to make sure that normally profitable wells were not plugged permanently because of the health crisis.
But the GAO, in a report released Tuesday, said the Trump administration failed to properly take the economic viability of wells into account when deciding which wells got relief — and probably ended up offering aid to oil producers that did not need it, shortchanging taxpayers in the process.
“This is exactly the time the government should be spending money,” said Frank Rusco, the watchdog agency’s director of natural resources and environment. “But we’re about good government. And if you do it, do it in a smart way.”