Statement for the Senate Record by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
U.S. Senate President pro tempore
On introduction of the COVID-19 Funding Accountability Act
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Mr. President, today I am introducing legislation in response to the coronavirus outbreak. I submitted this proposal to Senate Leadership earlier this week. It is my expectation that the language I’ve developed will be included, in some form, in the final agreement we’re negotiating. The legislation is designed to remove a stumbling block to enactment of a third coronavirus relief package.
Specifically, the proposal I’ve developed responds directly to the concerns – voiced by some of my colleagues in recent days – that we should add additional accountability provisions to the relief package now under consideration by this chamber. It’s my understanding that the Senate leaders are seriously considering including this or very similar language in their compromise. I applaud them for their efforts and strongly urge my colleagues’ support for these sensible provisions.
My proposal would impose strict congressional oversight over the Treasury Department fund that is tasked with extending lending and other assistance to air carriers and American companies that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It mirrors closely the language that this chamber adopted in 2008, during consideration of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
For example, this bill, like that 2008 statute, calls for the creation of a special inspector general for the coronavirus relief program and would authorize $50 million for this purpose. The special inspector general would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. As stated in the bill, this appointment must be made “on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations.”
The bill I’ve developed also calls for creation of a bipartisan oversight board, comprised of five high ranking executive branch officials. This board would meet every two weeks to review the activities of the Exchange Stabilization Fund, a Treasury Department vehicle through which hundreds of billions of dollars in loan assistance would flow to distressed sectors of the United States economy. This oversight board would have to report suspected fraud or malfeasance to the special inspector general that this legislation creates. Again, it is very similar to a board that Congress established in 2008, during another national crisis.
In addition, my proposal calls for the head of the Office of Management and Budget to issue regulations to minimize conflicts of interest that may arise in coronavirus relief activities. It also imposes limits on executive compensation to senior officers of companies that accept lending assistance through the Treasury Department’s Exchange Stabilization Fund.
The bill also calls for greater oversight and audits by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan watchdog agency of Congress. Specifically, GAO is tasked with ongoing oversight, including conducting audits of the programs and financial transactions of Federal agencies that extend financial assistance to private companies in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill also creates a bicameral, bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel within the legislative branch. This panel would be comprised of five members of the House of Representatives and Senate, appointed by the other chamber’s Speaker and the Senate Leader. This oversight panel would review the state of the financial markets and submit regular reports on certain topics, such as Federal officials’ use of coronavirus relief authority and the impact of Federal assistance on the financial markets, air carriers, and medical providers. This congressional panel would have the ability to convene hearings, call witnesses, take testimony, hire staff, get official data, and meet regularly. The panel, like many of the programs established under this bill, would terminate after this emergency ends.
Mr. President, my office has approached multiple colleagues, including those on the other side of the aisle, about these provisions. We’ve received encouraging comments from many. I believe this language could be accepted and urge that it be included in the final relief package, so that we can remove one of the remaining obstacles to moving forward.