Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Department of Defense watchdog to oversee $2.3 trillion coronavirus spending

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Glenn Fine, the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, will head a newly created team of IGs charged with ensuring the effective and fair implementation of a new $2.3 trillion measure aimed at bankrolling the national fight against the coronavirus.

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general and chairman of an interagency body of federal IGs called the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, announced the appointment on Monday.

Fine will lead the council’s newly created Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

The new coronavirus aid law required that the council of IGs create the pandemic accountability committee. The committee’s function, the law says, is to “detect and prevent fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement; and identify major risks that cut across programs and agency boundaries.”

3-pronged oversight

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Fine’s committee is one of three major oversight mechanisms created by the stimulus law, and it is the one with the broadest writ.

One of those other organizations is a five-member Congressional Oversight Commission to be composed of people who have yet to be named by House and Senate leaders. The commission must provide monthly reports to Congress on Treasury Department and Federal Reserve System implementation of the law’s provisions on loans and related programs.

The other oversight body is a so-called Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, who is still to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The special IG for pandemic recovery will focus on overseeing, in particular, how the Treasury Department allocates loans, loan guarantees and other expenditures.

Democrats had insisted on the special IG’s creation amid worries about how the administration would decide which entities are entitled to nearly $500 billion in funding aimed principally at big companies that are ailing from the economic effects of social distancing. The White House has indicated it may not fully cooperate with the terms of the new stimulus law when it comes to providing information to Congress.

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The law requires the special IG overseeing the Treasury loans to tell Congress if the administration “unreasonably” withholds information requested by investigators. But in a signing statement that was issued March 27 as the president enacted the stimulus law, the White House questioned the constitutionality of that provision.

The statement echoed the administration’s attempts to keep from Congress last year an intelligence community IG report on a whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry.

Veteran IG

Fine’s title is Pentagon “principal deputy inspector general, performing the duties of the inspector general,” a position he has held for four years. Trump has not nominated Fine or anyone else for the job.

Fine was the Justice Department IG from 2000 to 2011, meaning he has served for 15 years as a Cabinet-level agency IG — more than anyone in history. He is well-regarded as a tough and fair administrator of audits and criminal investigations.

Horowitz, in announcing Fine’s appointment, said he is “uniquely qualified to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a statement Monday that “Fine has a good reputation as a tough federal prosecutor and former DOJ Inspector General, and must exercise his full oversight authority to ensure that the Trump administration implements the CARES Act as intended.”

Fine said in a statement that he would continue to oversee Pentagon spending even as he takes on the new duties. That includes the nearly $700 billion Defense Department budget and the $10.5 billion in additional funds provided by the new stimulus law. Fine also said the committee he will chair will seek to promote transparency and ensure that the law is implemented as intended.

Fine said he looks forward to “working with my fellow Inspectors General on the committee to provide effective oversight of the funding and activities provided by the pandemic legislation.”

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