Last month, Democrats and Republicans passed a major bipartisan stimulus package, authorizing for $2 trillion to be spent on mitigating the economic effects of coronavirus. Part of the deal, which Democrats bargained tooth and nail for, was the creation of an independent oversight panel to oversee how the administration spent the money. They were concerned, obviously, with how a president famed for his corruption might decide to distribute the funds — on enriching himself, perhaps. Now it seems as if their fears have been realized: President Trump has fired Glenn Fine, who was supposed to chair the watchdog panel.
On Tuesday, Fine — the acting inspector general of the Pentagon — was replaced in his Pentagon post by Sean W. O'Donnell, who was serving as the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency. Fine had been selected to lead the stimulus package oversight committee, called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, by a group of inspectors general from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. But having been removed from his role at the Pentagon, Fine is no longer eligible to lead the coronavirus watchdog panel, The New York Times explained.
Fine "is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee," said a spokesman for the Pentagon inspector general's office in a statement. There was no explanation given for his removal. Fine is a career bureaucrat who’s served under both Republican and Democratic presidents; he spent more than a decade as the inspector general at the Department of Justice before joining the Pentagon.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee was directed by law to audit spending and investigate whether any taxpayer money was being spent improperly on the personal interests of government officials. Trump — whose questionable financial maneuvers have been reported extensively — seems to have felt that he’d like to have more of a hand in who exactly will be overseeing how his government spends the biggest stimulus package in American history. Presumably, he’s not going to choose someone more strict than Fine was likely to be.
Criticism from Democrats was swift. “President Trump has been engaged in an assault against independent inspectors general since last Friday in order to undermine oversight of his chaotic and deficient response to the coronavirus crisis,” said Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The oversight panel isn’t the only layer of scrutiny built into the stimulus bill. The House will also be creating a committee to explore how the administration distributes the funds, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, the House is not currently in session, and its members are scattered across the country due to the coronavirus outbreak. It’s unclear when it will be next be able to convene.