April 04, 2020

Harris Calls Out Trump’s “Intentional Failure” To Appoint IGs, Demands POTUS Move Quickly To Fill Vacancies to Oversee COVID-19 Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Saturday sent a letter to President Donald J. Trump urging him to move quickly to fill vacant inspector general positions across the federal government. The letter comes after the firing of the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson late last night. As the COVID-19 crisis persists, these vacancies threaten to undermine efforts to protect the health and safety of the public.

“Your intentional failure to appoint permanent, Senate-confirmed IGs is even more alarming in light of the accountability provisions included in the recently enacted COVID-19 relief package—provisions that task a group of federal IGs with conducting oversight of the government’s COVID-19 response efforts and spending,” said Harris. “Moreover, your decision last night to terminate the Intelligence Community IG—a transparent act of retaliation against an individual who fulfilled his duty to notify Congress of government wrongdoing—lays bare your blatant hostility to being held accountable and only underscores the important role played by experienced, independent government watchdogs.”

Harris continued, “The unprecedented scale and pace of the federal response to COVID-19 demands robust, independent oversight in order to ensure the integrity and efficacy of the government’s efforts. As Chairman Johnson and others have made clear, the absence of presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed IGs at key federal agencies creates a leadership vacuum that threatens to undermine the government’s best efforts to protect the health and safety of all Americans.”

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

April 4, 2020

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

I write to express serious concern about the urgent vacancy crisis of crucial inspector general (IG) positions across the federal government, particularly positions in agencies critical to the government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Your intentional failure to appoint permanent, Senate-confirmed IGs is even more alarming in light of the accountability provisions included in the recently enacted COVID-19 relief package—provisions that task a group of federal IGs with conducting oversight of the government’s COVID-19 response efforts and spending. Moreover, your decision last night to terminate the Intelligence Community IG—a transparent act of retaliation against an individual who fulfilled his duty to notify Congress of government wrongdoing—lays bare your blatant hostility to being held accountable and only underscores the important role played by experienced, independent government watchdogs.  In recognition of the need for transparency and effective oversight of the nation’s unprecedented investment in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, I urge you to move expeditiously to identify and nominate qualified candidates to fill these essential posts.

The absence of presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed IGs is a matter of bipartisan concern that long predates the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 13, 2019, Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs wrote to you on behalf of a bipartisan group of that Committee’s members, urging you to “take swift action” to address IG vacancies across the federal government.  Chairman Johnson’s letter identified nine vacancies among presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed IGs that at the time had no nominations pending. 

Chairman Johnson warned then that “[w]hile many acting IGs have served admirably in the absence of permanent leadership, the lack of a permanent leader threatens to impede the ability of these offices to conduct the oversight and investigations necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected, public safety risks are identified, and that whistleblowers who expose waste, fraud and abuse are protected.”  More than six months later, however, the overall number of vacancies in critical federal oversight positions has grown. Aside from a new IG position created in the recently enacted COVID-19 relief legislation, there are now 11 IG vacancies across the federal government that require presidential appointment and Senate confirmation to fill; of the 11 vacant positions, only four have nominations pending.  With your termination of the Intelligence Community IG, the number of IG vacancies will grow to 12.

In the months since Chairman Johnson and members of the Homeland Security Committee wrote to you, the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced the need for independent IGs to protect taxpayer dollars and to identify and mitigate risks to public safety. Indeed, Congress recognized the importance of ensuring independent oversight of the federal response and so included provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that established a new Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery and created the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, both of which are tasked with investigating and auditing the federal response effort and stimulus spending.  The new Special Inspector General will serve on the Committee alongside “the Inspectors General of the Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, and the Treasury,” as well as the IG for the Small Business Administration and the Treasury IG for Tax Administration.  Congress charged the Committee with the responsibility to “promote transparency and conduct and support oversight of covered funds and the Coronavirus response to (1) prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement; and (2) mitigate major risks that cut across program and agency boundaries.”

Notwithstanding Congress’s efforts to ensure oversight of the federal response, your unwillingness to prioritize filling IG vacancies threatens to hamstring the new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.  Four of the Committee’s seats are allotted to federal agencies that lack permanent, Senate-confirmed IGs. The Department of Defense, which will play a critical role in halting the spread of the disease, including among service members and their families, has been without a permanent IG for more than four years. The Department of Education, which will provide important guidance on the crisis to elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education, and which also oversees the federal student loan program, has been without a permanent IG for more than a year. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration—not only plays an important role in directing the spending of taxpayer dollars to address the pandemic, but is also working to speed the production and availability of tests for COVID-19. HHS, however, has not had a permanent IG for more than nine months. Finally, the Treasury Department, which has effectively led your administration’s response to the pandemic, including negotiating the terms of the congressional stimulus packages, has lacked a permanent IG for more than eight months.

The unprecedented scale and pace of the federal response to COVID-19 demands robust, independent oversight in order to ensure the integrity and efficacy of the government’s efforts. As Chairman Johnson and others have made clear, the absence of presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed IGs at key federal agencies creates a leadership vacuum that threatens to undermine the government’s best efforts to protect the health and safety of all Americans.

I urge you to move with all due speed to identify and nominate qualified professionals with the integrity and demonstrated ability to serve as federal IGs during this public health crisis.

Sincerely,

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