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ICYMI: North Carolinians “May Be In The Dark” About Where COVID-19 Relief Funds Go

Senate candidate and former Army prosecutor Cal Cunningham has spoken out about the importance of protecting North Carolinians’ taxpayer money, as billions in federal aid is being spent in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This morning, reports from news outlets and experts are further exposing how the public “may be in the dark” as the largest relief package in the country’s history starts heading out the door.

News out this morning says “names of businesses that collectively will receive hundreds of billions of dollars in coronavirus relief from the federal government may not be disclosed publicly, an omission that critics say could make the massive spending program vulnerable to fraud and favoritism.”

Last week, the Administration already sought to undermine the review process by upending the oversight panel and removing Acting Inspector General Fine, sending a chilling message to independent overseers: “Criticize the programs at your peril, and think twice before even raising your hand for the task of overseeing them.”

Cal called the removal a “setback in overseeing and protecting how our taxpayer dollars are spent” and called on Senator Thom Tillis to hold the administration accountable for the “continued chaos over oversight of this fund and the risk that our taxpayer money ends up in the wrong hands,” which Cal had warned against upon passage of the bill.

For Cal, rooting out the corruption in Washington that has put corporate interests over the people of North Carolina is a top priority. That includes employing watchdogs who will properly guard against fraud and corruption.

With Congress already looking toward additional relief, it is incumbent on legislators like Senator Tillis to make sure North Carolinians are not in the dark about where their taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Washington Post: Who’s getting these hundreds of billions in the government aid? For now, the public may be in the dark.

By Peter Whoriskey and Heather Long – April 13, 2020

  • The names of businesses that collectively will receive hundreds of billions of dollars in coronavirus relief from the federal government may not be disclosed publicly, an omission that critics say could make the massive spending program vulnerable to fraud and favoritism.

  • The $2.2 trillion Cares Act approved by President Trump last month requires that the names of recipients of some forms of federal aid be published, but those requirements do not extend to significant portions of the relief.

  • Chief among the omissions is the $349 billion expected to be doled out to small companies in chunks as large as $10 million. The rescue legislation does not compel the Small Business Administration to disclose the identity of the recipients. So far, the agency has said it received about 487,000 applications totaling $125 billion in requests.

  • The Cares Act and other legislation generally requires the Fed to disclose the loan recipients and the amounts they receive, but there is a significant exemption: the Fed chairman, Jerome H. Powell, may request that the information be kept confidential, meaning only congressional leaders would be given access.

  • On the other hand, according to critics, if the names of the beneficiaries of the aid are withheld, it will be difficult to gauge how much of the relief money is being wasted, fraudulently obtained or reaching places it was intended to go, experts and watchdog groups say.

  • President Trump already has taken steps that undermine these reviewers. In signing the Cares Act into law, Trump angered some Democrats, who had insisted on oversight measures, by declaring that the special inspector general cannot issue reports to Congress without “presidential supervision,” a constraint that could compromise the watchdog’s independence.

  • Then on Monday, Trump removed the chairman of the federal panel Congress created to oversee his administration’s handling of the Cares Act. Glenn Fine, who had been the acting Pentagon inspector general, was informed he was being replaced at the Defense Department by Sean W. O’Donnell, currently the inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency.

New York Times Op-Ed: Why We Desperately Need Oversight of the Coronavirus Stimulus Spending

By Neil M. Barofsky – April 13, 2020

  • More than $2 trillion dollars is about to head out the door, committed in a single news release last week by the Federal Reserve Board. In that release, the Federal Reserve announced how it and the Treasury Department intend to leverage just a portion of the $454 billion that Congress gave the department in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, with the potential of trillions more in lending to come.

  • Who will conduct oversight of this staggering amount of taxpayer money? We need to ensure that this government aid is not being stolen, wasted or given to political cronies. And we need to make sure that the public is aware of how and to whom those trillions are distributed. In short, we need watchdogs. As it prepares for more relief in the wake of vast economic ruin caused by Covid-19, Congress has leverage — and must use it.

  • I was one of those watchdogs in the previous big economic crisis, when Congress, through the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, authorized about $700 billion of taxpayer money to rescue the economy. I served as the special inspector general overseeing that program, charged with tracking the money and providing the transparency and guardrails necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars would be directed by Congress’s policy goals rather than plundered by fraud or diverted to companies because of their political connections or lobbying might.

  • The money is already flowing. Critics of the CARES Act pointed out that there could be a delay in the appointment of the special inspector general, but we were told not to worry, there would be a Pandemic Recovery Accountability Committee immediately organized that consisted of sitting inspectors general. Even better, the widely respected acting inspector general of the Defense Department, Glenn Fine, was named as its chairman. But that didn’t last long: He was quickly sacked by Mr. Trump with no explanation, leaving the committee leaderless, dormant and very possibly housebroken.

  • Because Mr. Fine’s dismissal came after attacks on other inspectors general (including another Pandemic Recovery Accountability Committee member, Christi Grimm, the acting inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services), a chilling message was sent and received by the watchdogs who are expected to play a crucial role in overseeing the trillions of dollars spread throughout the government as part of CARES: Criticize the programs at your peril, and think twice before even raising your hand for the task of overseeing them.

  • Until there is a new chairperson of this commission who can operate without the fear of being fired merely for taking the position, this watchdog has been effectively neutered.

  • And then there was a Congressional Oversight Commission, patterned on the Congressional Oversight Panel from the TARP legislation, which a then little-known Harvard professor named Elizabeth Warren turned into a beacon of transparency and accountability. But the commission, like Congress itself, is dependent on cooperation by the administration to provide access necessary to analyze and report on the programs. The recent assertions by the White House that it can ignore congressional subpoenas provide little comfort that the commission will be able to fulfill its role.

  • Only one of its five commissioners has been named, and we are waiting for the critical chairman to be named by congressional leaders. Keep in mind that, as we wait, trillions are committed and will begin to be spent.