House Democrats propose bill to let sidelined Pentagon watchdog stay on coronavirus oversight panel

House Democrats propose bill to let sidelined Pentagon watchdog stay on coronavirus oversight panel
© Bonnie Cash

The leadership of the House Oversight and Reform Committee is proposing a bill to allow the Pentagon's former top watchdog to lead a panel overseeing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief effort despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE removing him from his role as acting Department of Defense inspector general.

A bill introduced by committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Business groups throw support behind House Democrat's bill to provide pandemic risk insurance Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns MORE (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDemocrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog The Postal Service collapse that isn't happening Postal Service to review package fee policy: report MORE (D-Va.) and Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchHouse Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia Hillicon Valley: House Dems push for B in state election funds | Amazon suspends over 6,000 sellers for price gouging | Google says 18M malicious coronavirus emails sent daily House Democrats push hard for mail-in voting funds MORE (D-Mass.) — chairmen of committee subpanels — would expand the eligibility of who can chair the coronavirus relief oversight panel, allowing Glenn Fine to maintain his chairmanship.

“Pursuant to the law Congress just passed, Mr. Fine was chosen to be the chairman of the new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee—with widespread support in Congress,” Maloney, Connolly and Lynch said in a joint statement Wednesday. “Yet the president almost immediately removed him for no apparent reason."

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“Today, we are proposing legislation to respond directly to President Trump’s abuse of authority,” they added. “Our legislation would allow the chair of this new committee to be selected from any of the Inspectors General or other senior officials in Inspector General offices.”

The trio said they hope Congress includes the bill in the next legislative package it takes up to address the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier this week, Trump replaced Fine as acting Pentagon inspector general, a post he has held since 2016.

Fine is now back to being the Pentagon’s principal deputy inspector general, and Sean O’Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general, now has the added job of being acting Pentagon inspector general.

The move also took Fine off the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which he had been chosen to chair by his inspectors general peers just a week earlier.

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The panel of inspectors general was created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill Congress passed last month to audit and investigate implementation of the bill.

Under the rules passed by Congress, the chair of the committee has to be an agency’s inspector general.

But under the bill proposed Wednesday by the Oversight and Reform Committee, the chair would be allowed to be a principal deputy inspector general or “any individual serving in an office of any inspector general who occupies a position at the senior executive service level or higher.”

“We must not allow President Trump to openly flout the oversight measures that Congress put in place,” Maloney, Connolly and Lynch said. “There are literally trillions of taxpayer dollars at stake, and Americans across the political spectrum want those funds to be spent without waste, fraud, abuse, or profiteering.”

The shakeup at the Pentagon inspector general’s office is the latest example of Trump tightening his grip on federal watchdogs.

Trump this week also publicly berated Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who leads the inspector general’s office at the Department of Health and Human Services, over a report from her office that found “severe” shortages of coronavirus tests for hospitals to use and “widespread” shortfalls of protective equipment designed to protect health workers.

And late Friday night, Trump fired intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson, in what was seen as an effort to punish the inspector general for acting on a whistleblower complaint last year that first raised allegations of Trump’s improper contacts with Ukraine.