Sarbanes, Blumenthal, Warren, Jayapal Unveil Oversight, Accountability and Anti-Corruption Provisions for Next Congressional COVID-19 Response Package

Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) today urged Congressional leaders to include strong oversight, accountability and anti-corruption provisions in the next federal COVID-19 response package.

“We must ensure that federal COVID-19 economic relief goes directly to American families and small businesses who need it most – not to President Trump’s business buddies, corporations or Mitch McConnell’s wealthy donors,” said Sarbanes. “The robust anti-corruption, oversight and accountability standards that we have presented today will prevent the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans from hijacking vital support for hardworking Americans and sending it instead to wealthy and well-connected special interests.”

“Real accountability demands a watchdog, not a lapdog, to stop the waste, fraud and favoritism pervading this administration. An effective enforcement hammer is essential to deter wrongdoing, preserve resources and conserve credibility. Strong scrutiny is required to make sure aid reaches the right hands. Getting relief to those who need it – small businesses, struggling families, the working poor and middle class – means keeping an eye on the corporate fat cats who are trying to cut them in line,” Blumenthal said. “The only people threatened by oversight are the ones are the ones trying to game the system, or hide something.”

“President Donald Trump has made clear that he is putting himself and his buddies first during this global pandemic – and he will actively undermine independent oversight,” said Warren. “The next relief package must include our provisions to empower inspectors general, prohibit conflicts of interest and strengthen oversight and enforcement, and to stop any government-sanctioned profiteering and corruption. The American people need to trust their government is on their side, especially now.”

“Donald Trump has a long and established record of disregarding ethics, integrity and transparency, and his latest attempts to sideline and dismiss independent inspectors general have raised the stakes during this crisis. It’s unfortunate that we cannot trust the President of the United States and his appointees to properly and ethically distribute billions of dollars in economic relief, but this is the reality we must confront. We must pass aggressive oversight measures in future relief packages to ensure economic aid is delivered to struggling families and businesses in need, keep this President accountable and prevent him and his Administration from misusing and misallocating taxpayer dollars,” said Jayapal. 

Last month, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES Act), which provided critical aid to hospitals, small businesses, families, unemployed Americans and other parts of our economy and society hit hard by this global pandemic. The Act also established a $500 billion bailout for giant corporations, which – without stronger oversight and anti-corruption provisions – could be wasted and misused by the Trump Administration to enrich giant corporations and senior executives, make monopolies worse at the expense of workers and taxpayers and reward political allies and punish foes. 

Other provisions in the CARES Act, including support for small businesses, also lack critical oversight and conflicts of interest protections and are alarmingly vulnerable to exploitation for personal, financial and political gain. The CARES Act imposes some oversight of these programs, but President Trump began undermining these provisions the moment the bill became law. 

President Trump also fired the Inspector General independently designated to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), which Congress established to conduct and coordinate oversight and provide transparency over the federal government’s coronavirus response and management of pandemic response spending. 

The President’s actions send a clear signal to Congress that stronger oversight, accountability and anti-corruption provisions are urgently necessary.

“The gravity of our current crisis demands a responsible allocation of bailout funds. The process must be free from conflicts that favor special interests, and that requires robust oversight. CARES Act implementation to-date has been fraught, with loopholes that have allowed large companies to get cash meant for smaller businesses. We must course-correct, and ensure that taxpayer dollars help the public, workers and protect our health. Public Citizen strongly supports the reforms proposed by Senators Warren and Blumenthal and Representatives Jayapal and Sarbanes for the next relief package to make sure that this happens,” said Lisa Gilbert, Vice President of Legislative Affairs for Public Citizen.

“Senators Warren and Blumenthal and Representatives Jayapal and Sarbanes have outlined a set of proposals that would address many longstanding issues affecting oversight and would drastically improve accountability and transparency around the federal government's actions in response to COVID-19. We urge Congress to take these issues up quickly,” said Liz Hempowicz, POGO’s Director of Public Policy.

“The funds provided in the CARES Act are critical to an effective pandemic response, which can mean the difference between life and death, but with such massive amounts of money involved, they will be a natural target for fraud and influence. So ensuring these funds go where Congress intended is equally critical. All members of Congress should want immediate and thorough oversight into whether taxpayer funds are being spent fairly and without fraud or influence; these provisions would be a crucial step toward that needed oversight,” said Noah Bookbinder, Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).