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Government watchdog warns of 'reduced oversight' for pandemic relief programs

In a quarterly report to Congress released Friday, Brian Miller, the special inspector general, said his office and the Treasury inspector general were engaged in a months-long internal struggle concerning oversight of the airline industry’s Payroll Support Program and the Coronavirus Relief Fund for state and local governments.
The feud between the two inspectors general illustrates the challenges in tracking and preventing fraud in trillions of dollars in relief funds, and comes as the White House is pushing for trillions more in spending as part of its ambitious economic agenda following President Joe Biden’s signing of a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 economic relief package in March.
In his report, Miller said the Treasury Office of General Counsel and the Treasury inspector general did not feel his office had the authority to oversee the two pandemic relief programs, and so denied access to “mission-critical” data and declined to partner with Miller’s office.
Miller sought a final determination in January on his office’s jurisdiction from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC issued an opinion Thursday that the Treasury’s direct loans and the Federal Reserve’s lending programs fall under the purview of Miller’s office, but the Coronavirus Relief Fund, Payroll Support Program, and Paycheck Protection Program do not.
“The consequence is permanently reduced oversight of these programs,” Miller wrote of the OLC opinion.
CNN has reached out to the White House and the Treasury Department for comment.
Because of the OLC’s determination, Miller said, his office will have to “discontinue many ongoing oversight efforts and transfer others, including criminal investigations and leads.”
“SIGPR’s jurisdiction has come to be viewed narrowly, not expansively, and my only conclusion is that ‘things are not working well,’ ” he said.
Miller called on lawmakers to pass legislation to “clarify” his office’s mandate to provide oversight of the Treasury’s pandemic-related programs.
The $2.2 trillion stimulus package, the CARES Act, last year created several overlapping oversight entities, including the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery within the Treasury Department, to keep tabs on spending.
The special inspector general was tasked with auditing and investigating the loans, loan guarantees and other investments made by the Treasury secretary for some of the stimulus bill’s programs.
The legislation also instructs the special inspector general to provide quarterly reports to Congress summarizing its activities and an up-to-date accounting of the loans and other transactions.
Miller, a former lawyer in the Trump White House counsel’s office, was tapped by then-President Donald Trump for the role, prompting sharp criticism from Democrats. He was confirmed by the Senate last June on a 51-40 vote, with then-Sen. Doug Jones as the only Democrat to support his nomination.
Miller also previously served as General Services Administration inspector general during the Bush and Obama administrations.
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