An oversight committee created to root out fraud and abuse within the trillions of federal dollars being spent to combat coronavirus launched its website and announced its executive director on Monday, the first public action by a panel already ensnared in controversy.
The independent committee was created to oversee spending under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that Congress approved and President
Investigations are already underway looking into airlines receiving federal support, the validity of tax credits claimed by businesses, the accuracy of the economic stimulus payments and the Health and Human Services Department’s adherence to safety protocols during the outbreak, according to the website.
Robert A. Westbrooks was named the panel’s executive director. He “most recently served as the Inspector General for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation where he helped protect the retirement benefits of 35 million American workers and retirees,” according to the statement.
The effort to help small businesses retain their workers, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, has come under fire after big restaurant chains like
Even before it was fully operating, Trump had challenged and undercut the power of the group, officially known as the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, indicating contentious times ahead to hold agencies accountable for spending and managing a bailout program for small businesses.
On April 7, Trump removed an experienced inspector general who was appointed to chair the committee. The career official,
Westbrooks, the new executive director, was appointed to the watchdog role at the pension agency during President Barack Obama’s administration, creating another potential target for Trump, who has criticized inspectors general named under his predecessor as prejudiced against him.
“It is vital that Executive Director Westbrooks exercise his full authority to hold the Administration accountable to the law and ensure that this relief package is used to protect Americans’ lives and livelihoods, not to pad the pockets of corporations and the wealthiest few,” according to the statement.
Yet Trump has already sought to undercut several oversight powers provided by Congress in the CARES Act. In a signing statement accompanying the act, the president said he doesn’t recognize a mandatory requirement that congressional leaders help select the leadership of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Trump also said a newly established inspector general within the Treasury Department to manage investigations of pandemic-related loans doesn’t have the power to issue reports to Congress without presidential supervision.
Trump has repeatedly clashed with independent federal watchdogs, challenging their findings and implying they might have a political agenda. In early April, Trump fired
Atkinson had previously notified Congress about a whistle-blower complaint about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine, which eventually led to Trump being impeached.
“The recent flurry of presidential actions to undercut and sideline IGs as his administration spends historic amounts of public resources to address the pandemic should give Congress and every American grave concern about whether these resources will be used apolitically and in the public interest,” according to an April 9 article in The Hill written by
(Updates with Pelosi’s statement in ninth paragraph)
--With assistance from
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