Liveblogging the Civil War False Claims Act: False starts for the FCA in early 1863

by Ben Vernia | January 21st, 2013

On January 7, 1863, the New York Times reported on proceedings in Congress the day before, which included debate over whether to pass a bill to punish fraud against the government. An earlier version had been “suspended” by department heads, and there was disagreement over the fate of the new law:

Mr. WILSON, of Massachusetts, (Rep.,) from the Committee on Military Affairs, reported back the bill to suspend temporarily the act to prevent and punish fraud on the part of officers intrusted with making contracts for the Government, and moved that the bill be put upon its passage. Mr. POWELL, of Kentucky, (Dem.,) hoped the bill would not pass. There was some very curious history about this bill. It was passed at the extra session, and then suspended, because some of the heads of the Bureaus were opposed to it. He moved to refer it to the Judiciary Committee. Mr. TRUMBULL, of Ohio, (Rep.,) said there had been great complaints of frauds, and this bill was passed. But on representation of heads of departments it was suspended. If Congress could not pass a bill to punish fraud without its being constantly suspended in this way, he thought it better be repealed at once. Mr. GRIMES, of Iowa, (Rep.,) contended that the bill was in effect to establish a Bureau of Returns and to provide a punishment for false returns. He did not think the bill could be carried into effect in time of war. Mr. HALE, of New-Hampshire, (Rep.,) suggested that the operation of the bill be suspended until the 3d of March thus giving time to amend it and make it practical. Mr. SAULSBURY, of Maryland, (Dem.,) moved to postpone the bill indefinitely. Mr. FESSENDEN, of Maine, (Rep.,) hoped not, and argued that, from the immense number of contracts, it would be almost impossible to carry out the bill, except at vast expense. There was already a good law making contractors liable to military law, by which they could be punished. After further discussion the subject was postponed.

Ten days later, Rep. Wilson reintroduced the bill.

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