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Warren, Khanna request IG investigation into Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds

Warren, Khanna request IG investigation into Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds
© Bonnie Cash

A pair of Democrats is asking the Pentagon’s internal watchdog to investigate how the department used $1 billion in coronavirus relief funds.

In a Friday letter to the Pentagon’s inspector general, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaExpiring benefits raise economic stakes of stalled stimulus talks Overnight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy Watchdog to audit Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds on defense contractors MORE (D-Calif.) asked the watchdog to “review the potential misuse of funds by the department that were meant 'to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.’ ”

“Instead of addressing the urgent needs of a pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans, it appears [the Department of Defense] DoD used taxpayer money meant to protect lives from COVID-19 to pad the pockets of defense contractors,” Senate Armed Services Committee member Warren and House Armed Services Committee member Khanna wrote in the letter to acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell.

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“The reported misuse by DoD of federal funds meant for the response to the deadly pandemic plaguing our country is inconsistent with the will of Congress and may be illegal,” they added. “Accordingly, we request that the inspector general investigate DoD’s redistribution of CARES Act funds that were intended by Congress to respond to COVID-19 via the Defense Production Act.”

A spokesperson for the inspector general told The Hill that the office received the letter and is reviewing their request.

The call for an investigation comes after a Washington Post report Tuesday detailed how the Pentagon has used most of a $1 billion fund allocated by the CARES Act on defense contractors rather than medical supplies.

The DOD awarded contracts for jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms, among other military equipment, which critics argue is in contravention of stipulations in the CARES Act.

The Pentagon has defended itself, arguing the money was never intended to be restricted to medical supplies, that it kept Congress fully informed of its plans and that helping the defense industrial base through the pandemic-fueled economic downturn is an appropriate response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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“The CARES Act did not limit — nor did it intend to limit in its language — the use of Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III to only medical resources,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a seven-paragraph statement Wednesday. “As part of the efforts to mitigate economic damage, the act allowed monies to be spent to support individuals and industries that had been impacted by COVID. This is exactly what DOD has done.”

While the Post report provided new details on the exact contracts the Pentagon has awarded, the department notified Congress in late May it planned to use $688 million of the funding to shore up the defense industrial base. Several news outlets, including the Post, reported on the notification in early June.

Still, the latest Post report set off a new wave of outrage. On Tuesday, two House Democrats called for a congressional investigation into the issue.

On Thursday, dozens of outside groups from across the political spectrum also called for a congressional investigation into how the Pentagon used the funding.