Inspectors General Brief Committee on Oversight of the Federal Government’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Washington, D.C. (Apr. 28, 2020)— Today, Inspectors General (IGs) from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, and the Small Business Administration briefed Members of the Committee on Oversight and Reform regarding their ongoing oversight efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic and proposals to strengthen the independence of all IGs.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, issued the following statement:
“Now, more than ever, it is essential the public has confidence in the federal government and its ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis. I was pleased to hear that the IGs at the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, and the Small Business Administration have already started work related to their agency’s response to the coronavirus and will be issuing flash reports to provide Congress and the public with transparency into the effectiveness of agency decisions. Congress must be a partner and pass legislation to ensure that all IGs can conduct independent oversight and do the jobs that they are statutorily required to do free of political influence.”
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued the following statement:
“Today’s briefing showed that Inspectors General are taking aggressive steps to conduct oversight of the Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the stewardship of trillions of taxpayer dollars. The newly formed Pandemic Response Accountability Committee will be essential to broader efforts to root out waste, fraud, abuse, and profiteering. Inspector General Horowitz has shown strong leadership in appointing a new Executive Director and creating a public website that will provide transparency into how taxpayer dollars are spent. I will continue to work on legislation to ensure that all IGs are able to carry out their critical work without political interference.”
The Inspectors General provided the following information during the briefing:
- Department of Treasury IG will conduct audits relating to the disbursement of funds pursuant to the CARES Act. The Treasury IG is conducting two audits relating to the air carrier worker support provisions. The first audit, announced on March 30, will assess Treasury’s implementation of the Payroll Support Program. The second audit, announced on April 13, will assess air carrier certifications that document employee wages, salaries, and benefits. Acting Treasury Inspector General Richard Delmar stated that the lanes of jurisdiction are still being determined and that it is paramount for the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) to be appointed and for the office to be set up as quickly as possible to ensure proper oversight.
- Department of Justice IG will assess the efforts of Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to prevent, manage, and contain coronavirus outbreaks at BOP facilities. As of April 27, 1,046 federal inmates and 330 BOP staff have tested positive for coronavirus. BOP reports that 28 inmates have died from coronavirus complications, with seven deaths at the Oakdale, Louisiana facility; seven in the Elton, Ohio facility; and five in the Butner, North Carolina facility. On March 26, Attorney General William Barr issued a memo directing BOP to employ “various statutory authorities” to provide home confinement to certain eligible prisoners. As of April 27, BOP had placed an additional 1,576 inmates on home confinement. On Friday, reports emerged alleging “shifting, contradictory guidelines” from BOP that affected the early release of 200 inmates to home confinement.
- Small Business Administration IG will review implementation of Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP faced immediate problems after SBA launched it on April 3. Lenders reported that SBA’s computer systems for processing applications regularly crashed, preventing the banks from issuing loans. These technical issues created a built-in advantage for larger businesses that had preexisting relationships with banks participating in the program who could better navigate the SBA’s system and led to money being distributed to entities such as Ruth’s Chris, the Los Angeles Lakers, and AutoNation.
- IGs have started audits relating to coronavirus and will issue “flash reports” to quickly address any problems. IGs plan to act quickly to provide Congress and the public with transparency into how funds are being spent and whether provisions in the CARES Act are properly implemented. In a change from their usual practice, IGs will publish “flash reports” to ensure that stakeholders are frequently updated on how agencies are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The Oversight Committee is concerned that IGs are under attack and the IGs said they would work with the Committee as it considers legislation to protect IG independence. Since the beginning of April, President Trump has fired the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, removed the newly appointed Chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, and attacked the Principal Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. During the briefing, the Chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, Michael Horowitz, made it clear that the Council strongly believes in independent oversight and the ability of IGs to do their job without fear or favor, as the law requires. Mr. Horowitz stated that IGs will continue to move forward with independent oversight and release public reports on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Horowitz also stated that the Council will work with the Committee on legislation to give Senate-confirmed and Acting IGs the protections they need to continue to do oversight.
Chairwoman Maloney, joined by Subcommittee Chairmen Gerald E. Connolly and Stephen F. Lynch, introduced legislation in response to President Trump’s removal of Department of Defense Acting IG Glenn Fine from his position as Chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
The legislation would amend the CARES Act to permit senior officials to serve on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and serve as its Chair.