During a virtual rally in Wisconsin Wednesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden claimed that President Trump was implementing the coronavirus relief effort with “no oversight, no IGs [inspectors general], no accountability.”
Despite what the vice president said, several different methods of oversight for the coronavirus relief effort were created by the CARES Act. Perhaps the most significant is the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, established by Section 15010 of the CARES Act established “to promote transparency and conduct and support oversight of covered funds and the Coronavirus response.” The committee’s responsibilities include, among others, auditing the economic relief funds to prevent waste and abuse and ensure the money is efficiently distributed.
The CARES Act also outlined the membership of the committee: the inspectors general of the departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, and the Treasury, plus the inspectors general of the Small Business Administration and Tax Administration, a position in the Treasury Department that oversees the IRS. The committee had initially selected the acting director of the Department of Defense, Glenn Fine, as its chairman, but he was controversially removed from his post as acting inspector general by President Trump, thus disqualifying Fine from membership on the committee.
Trump replaced Fine with the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency Sean O’Donnell, who, by virtue of his new position as acting inspector general of the Department of Defense, assumed Fine’s position on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee as well. A permanent chairperson for the committee has not yet been selected, and Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the Justice Department, currently serves as acting chairman.
The CARES Act also states that “any other Inspector General, as designated by the Chairperson from any agency that expends or obligates covered funds or is involved in the Coronavirus response” can be added to the committee. Before he was replaced, Fine announced 12 additional inspectors general would be joining the committee. Among those 12 is an entirely new inspector general created by section 4018 of the CARES Act: the special inspector general for pandemic recovery. This position is filled by presidential appointment with confirmation by the Senate and is currently vacant, though President Trump has nominated his senior associate counsel, Brian Miller.
The act states it is the special inspector general’s duty to “conduct, supervise, and coordinate audits and investigations of the making, purchase, management, and sale of loans, loan guarantees, and other investments made by the Secretary of the Treasury under any program established by the Secretary under this Act, and the management by the Secretary of any program established under this Act.”
Section 4020 of the CARES Act established yet another oversight body: the Congressional Oversight Commission. The commission was tasked with overseeing the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve’s lending practices to create transparency about how the money is being used and determine the economic impact of the loans. The CARES Act establishes that the commission be made up of five members, with the speaker of the House, House minority leader, Senate majority leader, and Senate minority leader each appointing one member. The leaders of each chamber are also tasked with picking a fifth member, with the minority party leaders of the Senate and House providing consultation. The commission is also required to submit reports to Congress every 30 days until it is terminated on September 20, 2025, updating the legislature on its findings, and issued its first report on May 18.
President Trump’s meddling with the inspectors general on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and his choice for a special inspector general have earned him criticism. Additionally, he has stated he disagrees with elements of the CARES Act oversight provisions, issuing a statement detailing which sections he would ignore. One area in which Trump has said he won’t abide by the CARES Act is in allowing the special inspector general to issue reports to Congress without “presidential supervision.” Trump’s nominee, Miller, has said he will report to Congress when asked even without Trump’s permission.
However, it is inaccurate to claim, as Biden did, that there is “no oversight, no IGs [inspectors general], no accountability” in the coronavirus economic relief effort.
Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
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