Measure would ensure special investigator has proper resources in light of Trump's recent IG firing spree, senator says.
The watchdog office Congress created to oversee trillions of dollars of economic stimulus spending in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic would have new authority to quickly staff up and hire under a bipartisan bill unveiled in the Senate this week.
The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery Expedited Hiring Authority Act (S. 3751) would allow that investigator’s office to bypass normal hiring restrictions that often make federal onboarding a lengthy process. The measure, introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and cosponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Cory Booker, D-N.J., would allow the office to function as a temporary one, even though it technically does not meet those requirements. It would give the IG six months to avoid the normal competitive hiring process.
It would also allow federal employees throughout government to volunteer to serve in the office and for the IG to request detailees from other agencies. Federal retirees could return to public service to work for the IG without taking any hit to their retirement annuity, as is normally the case for former employees returning to work. The IG would also be able to accept volunteers to serve in the office.
“Trillions in taxpayer dollars are headed out the door to help our nation respond to and recover from this pandemic, so we have a duty to make sure it gets to those in need and is used as intended,” Grassley said. “This bill helps the special inspector general quickly build its team so it can hit the ground running. We can’t let bureaucratic delays drag out with some much [in] hard-earned taxpayer dollars on the line.”
President Trump has nominated White House attorney Brian Miller to serve as the special pandemic IG, which Congress created as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to oversee the torrent of federal spending. His nomination was approved by a largely party-line vote in the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and was scheduled for a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, though that was delayed. He is expected to receive final approval on the Senate floor as soon as next week.
Experts and lawmakers had mixed reactions to Miller’s testimony earlier this month, despite Miller’s claims he will provide effective and independent oversight if confirmed. He served for nearly a decade as inspector general at the General Services Administration and has held other positions in government, but more recently generated controversy for denying the Government Accountability Office’s request for information during its probe of the Trump administration’s handling of Ukraine aid.
Congress also created the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, though Trump has indicated he does not plan to honor all of its investigative authorities. The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency tapped then acting Defense Department IG Glenn Fine to lead the panel, but Trump subsequently removed him from that role. The president has launched a widespread attack on IGs in recent weeks, removing four of the watchdogs since the start of April. Trump most recently announced his intent to fire State Department IG Steve Linick.
Grassley has led some Republicans' tepid pushback against the dismissals, saying the administration must lay out its justifications in more detail. Hassan, however, one of the sponsors of the special IG hiring bill, intimated that recent history makes the need for appropriate staffing more critical.
“Now more than ever, we need to work together to protect the independence of inspectors general and ensure that they have the resources they need to conduct vital oversight,” Hassan said.
The measure is endorsed by several good-government groups such as the Project on Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project.
Courtney Bublé contributed to this report.