Coronavirus

There Is Literally One Guy Overseeing Nearly $500 Billion of Emergency Coronavirus Spending

He has no colleagues or staff, but he's supposed to provide oversight on $454 billion in coronavirus spending—nearly equal to the annual budget for Medicare.

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A five-member commission created to track nearly $500 billion of coronavirus relief spending is still missing four members.

And staff.

And an office.

And its first report is due to Congress in a few weeks.

Bloomberg reports that Bharat Ramamurti remains the sole appointee on the Congressional Oversight Commission that's charged with overseeing about half a trillion dollars worth of emergency spending authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The commission's mandate to provide oversight on $454 billion in spending to be disbursed from the Treasury Department to large and small businesses affected by the pandemic—an amount of money nearly equal to the annual budget for Medicare.

The commission is supposed to operate for five years and issue reports every 30 days. It is modeled after a similar temporary oversight commission that reviewed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) during the previous economic crisis. Other aspects of the CARES Act's massive $2.3 trillion in spending are supposed to be overseen by the Government Accountability Office and a newly created Special Inspector General for Pandemic Response.

With few resources and no colleagues, Ramamurti has started using his Twitter account to raise questions about how the spending is being handled. Already, the Treasury Department has announced plans to use $195 billion of its CARES Act funding to support loan programs run by the Federal Reserve.

 

"I think it is concerning that a chunk of the money is going to support lending to big businesses, and that money comes with, as far as I can tell, zero strings attached in terms of restrictions on executive compensation, restrictions on stock buybacks and restrictions on dividends," Ramamurti tells The Washington Post.

The commission's ability to report on the Federal Reserve's coronavirus response "is a key check on the infamously accountability-resistant body," says the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog.

With recent news of President Donald Trump firing several inspectors general, about the only good thing to be said about the understaffed oversight commission is that at least Ramamurti isn't a Trump lackey. He's a former staffer for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), as well as an advisor to her failed presidential campaign. While working for Warren, Ramamurti was involved in the investigation that uncovered unscrupulous behavior by Wells Fargo, which had opened thousands of empty bank accounts in customers' names to meet internal sales targets.

He was appointed to the commission by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), who said in a statement that Ramamurti "is a ferocious advocate for consumers who will fight for transparency and hold bad actors accountable." Other congressional leaders are responsible for appointing the remaining slots on the commission and for choosing a chairman or chairwoman.

Given the speed with which the CARES Act cleared Congress and the unprecedented amount of money being thrown around, it would not be much of a surprise to find rampant waste. And while fully staffed oversight commissions would help identify wasteful spending, it's probably right to be skeptical about such a body's ability to prevent it.

"Oversight only works if the government is small enough to do proper oversight, and it only works if you can follow it up with proper action. That's something the government doesn't do very well," says Veronique de Rugy, a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center and a Reason contributor. "And $2 trillion is impossible to oversee. It's insane. Even if that person flags stuff, what is going to happen?"

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a nonprofit that advocates for fiscal responsibility, has proposed 10 principles on its website for the money being spent for coronavirus and other emergencies. The recommendations include making everything temporary, targeted, transparent, and accountable. All of the expenditures should be made available in a searchable online database, the group says. 

"Taxpayer and watchdog groups need to be vigilant to make sure the oversight is not politicized," Tom Schatz, president of CAGW told Reason via email, "and that the money and power being given to the government at all levels is not abused or extended beyond this crisis."

Wasteful spending in government is inevitable. Malfeasance in a massive, rushed spending package is all but guaranteed. The only hope for limiting it is having Congress empower the watchdogs—immediately.

NEXT: From the Cholera Riots to the Coronavirus Revolts

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  1. Did someone promise bonuses at Reason for articles today? You guys have been cranking this shit out like madmen.

    1. They’re all working from home. Probably got tired of jerking off all day and decided to write instead.

    2. The remaining Koch Brother is reassessing his spending habits and probably realizing that a Mexican wetback and H1B visa pajeet probably write better articles than LeatherMan and Grape Juice Boy.

  2. If the only good thing you can say about the commission is that Ramamurti is a Warren lackey instead of a Trump lackey, that is faint praise indeed.

  3. Interesting bit of space news to keep your mind off the Covid.

    https://spaceflightnow.com/2020/04/15/rocket-lab-reports-recovery-test-success/

    Always nice to see free(ish) market innovation finding success.

  4. “With recent news of President Donald Trump firing several inspectors general, about the only good thing to be said about the understaffed oversight commission is that at least Ramamurti isn’t a Trump lackey. He’s a former staffer for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), as well as an advisor to her failed presidential campaign. ”

    LOL. It’s good that it is a Warren acolyte? Boehm, you’ve just lost all credibility.

    This article could be better summarized is that Congress wrote a crappy bill that had unrealistic timelines on staffing and organization.

  5. With few resources and no colleagues, Ramamurti has started using his Twitter account to raise questions about how the spending is being handled.

    Oh, FFS! Perhaps he can use it to fund Michigan’s Operation Gridlock.

  6. While this lack of oversight is an insane invitation to corruption, the root problem is that this stimulus was signed into law and exists at all. Yes, the economically fragile and ill suited to a pandemic and post pandemic economy would have lost to those economically resilient and well suited; but stimulus can only delay and stifle necessary adaptation and innovation to new real world conditions.

    C-19 pandemic stimulus is not life support for the old terminal economy as too many rationalize, but is a slow poison killing both the economy and liberty.

  7. He was appointed to the commission by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.)

    Wait, what?
    I thought the republicans controlled the Senate. How in hell does this even work?

  8. One Warren lackey is a feature, not a bug. The point is to have less accountability. Why act so surprised?

  9. >>He’s a former staffer for Sen. Elizabeth Warren

    lol. street cred.

  10. Libertarians for Liz Warren!

    Anyway, would it have been too hard to state who the other congressmen are that should be appointing people?

  11. Can a Wes Anderson movie be made of this guy?

  12. The government commission for oversight of multiple hundreds of billions of corona-virus relief dollars conducts business via social media?

  13. On the other hand, could we use this as justification to reduce all other federal departments to the same dollar to employees ratio?
    As a method of paying for the bailouts?
    It might save one child – – – – – – –

    1. That’s too smart to be implemented, but bonus points for the originality!

  14. Is he overseeing any of the money in his personal account?

  15. So, vote libertarian because they will fire all these guys?

    Hahahahaha, yeah right.

    1. Well, libertarians do claim to be in favor of smaller government. It would be real hard to get less than one bureaucrat per program.

  16. “…least Ramamurti isn’t a Trump lackey. He’s a former staffer for Sen. Elizabeth Warren …”

    So he’s a Warren lackey? Actually this might be the only job where a Warren lackey might be good for the country.

    Four slots left? They should fill one of them with Tom Shatz (if that is his real name).

  17. Wikipedia now lists 4 members:
    Chair: TBD
    Senate Majority: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)[2]
    Senate Minority: Bharat Ramamurti (D)[3]
    House Majority: Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL)[2]
    House Minority: Rep. French Hill (R-LA)[4]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_Congressional_Oversight_Commission

    The Majority and Minority leaders in the Senate and House each picked one. The chairman is to be jointly selected by Pelosi and McConnell, so that position won’t be filled until those two can come to an agreement.

    When they do agree, I expect their choice will fit Kim Dutoit’s definition of “bipartisan”: When the Stupid Party and the Evil Party agree to do something stupid and evil. And the news media will blame Trump somehow…

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