Top government watchdog names new official to government's coronavirus oversight panel

Top government watchdog names new official to government's coronavirus oversight panel
© Greg Nash

A top government watchdog on Monday named a new official to the government panel that will oversee more than $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is also chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, appointed Robert Westbrooks as executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

The council praised Westbrooks as a leader who has more than a decade's worth of oversight experience, noting he is a certified public accountant, internal auditor, information systems auditor, an attorney and former federal criminal investigator. He recently served as the inspector general for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

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“I look forward to working with the entire oversight community – federal, state, and local – to coordinate and conduct independent oversight over these critically important emergency relief programs, and help ensure that funds are used effectively and efficiently and major program risks are addressed,” Westbrooks said in a statement.

Horowitz, however, has not named the oversight panel's chairman.

The members on the inspectors general council had previously tapped acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine to lead the committee, but President TrumpDonald TrumpFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Giving thanks for Thanksgiving itself Immigration provision in Democrats' reconciliation bill makes no sense MORE abruptly removed him from the Defense Department post and replaced him with Sean O’Donnell, who is also inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Trump administration never provided an explanation for the sudden shake-up.

Some experts have argued that Trump wanted to control the oversight process, noting he had the option of nominating a new inspector general and leaving Fine as acting head until his successor was confirmed. Trump instead chose to name a new acting official while lawmakers were out of town.

Horowitz, in the meantime, is serving as acting chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

In announcing Westbrooks's appointment, the inspectors general council also said it is launching a website and Twitter account — pandemic.oversight.gov and @COVID_Oversight — to provide updates and resources on pandemic spending.

The platforms will include information about the allocation of federal funding from the coronavirus relief packages, as well as watchdog reports and a hotline for alleged fraud, waste and abuse.

Horowitz said in a statement that the new website "is the first of many steps that [the committee] will take to ensure transparency and accountability regarding the federal government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic."

Updated at 3:50 p.m.