The $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package has a new watchdog

Peter Weber

The inspectors general of U.S. federal agencies on Monday tapped Glenn Fine, the acting Pentagon inspector general, to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a body of 10 inspectors general who will oversee implementation of the massive $2.2 trillion package designed to shelter the U.S. economy from the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee Fine leads is one of three oversight boards Democrats insisted on including in the legislation, which gives Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin broad discretion over where to direct the huge pots of money.

Fine, who was Justice Department inspector general from 2000 to 2011 and has served as acting Defense Department inspector general for the past four years, has a good reputation in Washington. The other two oversight boards set up in the law are a congressional oversight committee, whose five members will be chosen by the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, and a "special inspector general" charged with overseeing a $500 loan program for large businesses, states, and local governments. President Trump will pick that inspector general, though the Senate must confirm his nominee.

When Trump signed the law on Friday, he also issued a signing statement claiming the right to block that inspector general from reporting to Congress if the administration "unreasonably" withholds information on how the $500 billion is being disbursed. Under Trump's interpretation of the law, the inspector general can't inform Congress without "presidential supervision," undermining the new watchdog.

Fine's committee will have the broadest authority over the $2.2 trillion law, though, and has been vested with subpoena power and a mandate to conduct audits of all spending and contracts. Any suspected fraud, chicanery, or other wrongdoing will be investigated by the inspector general of the relevant department. "Glenn 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," Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday.

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