The Trump administration is determined to steal everything it can for the rich in the COVID-19 crisis, and do it in secret. Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin decided that information about which businesses are getting taxpayer-funded loans and how much they are getting is going to be kept secret. Turns out, that’s just the start of it. Government watchdogs informed Congress last week that the administration has made legal decisions that could prevent Congress from investigating and overseeing more than $1 trillion in spending that they have authorized for the pandemic so far.
Two officials in charge of a new watchdog entity Congress created wrote to congressional leaders to inform them that attorneys in the Treasury department have determined that the administration does not have to reveal information to them about the companies that have received funds through the “Division A” funds created in the CARES Act. That section of the law includes the Paycheck Protection Program small business loan program. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) It also includes the nearly $500 billion in corporate bailouts included in the bill. They want all of it kept secret—which means all of it is subject to fraud and avoidance of the few guardrails that Congress created for it.
The inspectors general who are heading up the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which was created by congress in the CARES Act to oversee its implementation, wrote to express their concern about the administration’s decision to lock them out of the process. “If this interpretation of the CARES Act were correct, it would raise questions about PRAC’s authority to conduct oversight of Division A funds,” said Michael E. Horowitz and Robert Westbrooks, the acting chair and executive director of PRAC, according to The Washington Post. “This would present potentially significant transparency and oversight issues because Division A of the CARES Act includes over $1 trillion in funding.”
Mnuchin told Congress on Monday that he would work with lawmakers on new oversight measures, all the while using this interpretation of the law by his staff attorneys to say he will refuse to provide transparency. “They seem to be saying one thing while doing exactly the opposite,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic chair of the House Oversight Committee told the Post. “If the Trump administration is committed to full cooperation and transparency with taxpayer dollars, it is unclear why it is manufacturing legal loopholes to avoid responding to legitimate oversight requests.” That’s generous on her part. Of course the administration is not committed to transparency. That gets in the way of all the grift. “This is a devastating blow to oversight,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight. “It is a contorted analysis of the law and clearly counter to what Congress intended.”
Somewhat surprisingly, that’s a bipartisan, bicameral opinion. “American taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent,” Blair Taylor, a spokesperson for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said. “Neither the letter nor the spirit of the law limit the accountability committee’s purview in that regard. Chairman Shelby is supportive of clarifying that in subsequent legislation, if necessary.” Congress is supposedly working on the next stimulus bill, though lawmakers are showing little urgency in doing so, and they may or may not address this in the near future.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.