Trump’s Choice for Watchdog Over Pandemic Funds Vows Vigilance

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee trillions of dollars in the effort to rescue the economy from the coronavirus pandemic pledged to “conduct every audit and investigation with fairness and impartiality.”

“I will be vigilant to protect the integrity and independence of the Office of Special Inspector General” and will work “to uncover fraud, waste and abuse,” Brian Miller said in prepared remarks released Monday. He’s scheduled to face the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in Washington as lawmakers weigh his nomination as Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, or SIGPR.

Created by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in March, the SIGPR’s purview will include key stimulus programs including $454 billion in backstops to lending programs through the Federal Reserve, as well as money for airlines and defense companies. The central bank is leveraging funds from the Treasury Department into trillions of dollars in liquidity for the economy.

Miller had experience as a watchdog earlier in his career, probing health-care fraud for the Justice Department and monitoring spending at the General Services Administration. But Democrats have questioned his independence in light of his current post as a top White House lawyer who participated in Trump’s impeachment defense.

It’s unclear how deep Miller may probe if, as expected, he wins confirmation in the Republican-led Senate. Trump already has sought to rein in the post Miller would fill by limited its communications with Congress.

While Democrats demand aggressive oversight, the president has moved in recent weeks to strip power from inspectors general he views as disloyal. Trump dismissed one watchdog, criticized another for spotlighting reports of equipment shortages at hospitals and shunted another from a post overseeing pandemic spending beyond the Treasury Department.

The SIGPR will operate inside of the Treasury to oversee Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s work, with an operating budget of about $25 million over five years, and is supposed to submit quarterly reports to Congress.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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