The US has started pumping money into the system, with Congress passing a $2 trillion stimulus package and the Federal Reserve also pumping another $2.3 trillion into the economy. Naturally this has caught the attention of those who are eager to grab some of it to enrich themselves. This is why Congress has tried to create oversight committees to try and ensure that the money is used as intended.
But Donald Trump is a grifter whose family and circle of close associates are also grifters. So it is alarming but not surprising that he has started firing inspectors general, the watchdogs whose job it is to monitor the workings of institutions. One of those fired is the head of the coronavirus bailout oversight board.
In the wake of President Trump’s move to push aside the official who was supposed to lead the coronavirus bailout watchdog group, four other members are just as vulnerable.
Trump was able to remove the panel’s chosen head, Glenn Fine, by naming a new Defense Department inspector general and bumping Fine to the No. 2 job at the Pentagon watchdog office. No longer an acting inspector general, Fine was disqualified from serving on the panel he was supposed to lead.
Fine’s removal sounded an alarm among Democrats in Congress, who had demanded that spending safeguards be built into the $2 trillion recovery package. House Democrats rushed out a proposed tweak that would stop further removals like Fine’s by opening up eligibility to senior officials in IG offices, not just IGs themselves.
“At the time the language was being drafted, I don’t think anybody had in mind that the president a week later was going to go on a firing spree of IGs,” said Elizabeth Hempowicz, the director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight, who consulted with lawmakers on the PRAC language. “It was drafted quickly and meant to be immediately responsive to the moment.”
Congress sought to draw on the powers of inspectors general at various federal agencies. The IGs offer established expertise and credibility, as well as sweeping authority within their various agencies to pull records and interview officials. Lawmakers gave the PRAC added powers such as the ability to hold hearings and subpoena private citizens and companies.
By now it should be obvious that any congressional action needs to be designed with the realization that Trump will use anything to circumvent its intent if it conflicts with his own greed and need. It does not help that the stimulus package removes some transparency requirements on the Federal Reserve. This should be a time for maximum transparency, not for limiting it.