/Trump administration is blocking COVID stimulus oversight: government watchdog letter

Trump administration is blocking COVID stimulus oversight: government watchdog letter


FILE PHOTO: A test tube labelled with the coronavirus is placed on U.S. dollar banknotes, in this illustration taken on March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration is hindering oversight of over $1 trillion in pandemic stimulus funds, according to a watchdog group tasked by Congress to detect fraud and misuse of federal aid aimed at mitigating economic fallout from coronavirus.

Treasury Department officials have said the agency is not required to report key information to the inspectors general group, known as the Pandemic Response Accountability Commission (PRAC), regarding one of the funds it is tasked with administering under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, leaders from the PRAC told lawmakers in a letter seen on Monday.

The letter to congressional leaders details one of the latest efforts by Trump administration to limit transparency and oversight of the unprecedented government stimulus package. It’s also the latest sign of friction between the Trump administration and the government watchdog community after the president removed several inspectors general from their roles.

In the June 11 letter, PRAC leaders said a legal opinion from the Treasury officials could hurt the group’s ability to properly oversee huge swaths of taxpayer-funded aid programs, including cash that has been doled out to states and local governments, small businesses and airlines.

The Treasury Department has pointed to other reporting requirements as alternatives, PRAC’s acting chair, Michael Horowitz, and executive director, Robert Westbrooks, told lawmakers ,including Democratic U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney and Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

But those “alternatives do not address the full range of programs for which the PRAC is responsible, nor do they provide the breadth and depth of reporting needed for the PRAC to fully carry out the responsibilities” detailed in the legislation, Horowitz and Westbrooks said.

A PRAC spokeswoman declined to comment, and the Treasury Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Separately on Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed to speak with lawmakers about oversight of small business economic relief after previously resisting calls to reveal who received funds.

Reporting by Chris Prentice in Washington and Koh Gui Qing in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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