WASHINGTON — A breakdown in the oversight of trillions of dollars of economic relief money spilled into public view Friday night when the Treasury Department’s special inspector general for pandemic recovery said in a report that his powers to scrutinize funds had been curtailed this week after a decision by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
The inspector general, Brian Miller, said in his quarterly report to Congress that he had been engaged in a monthslong dispute with another inspector general in the Treasury Department over who had access to information about and oversight of the Payroll Support Program and the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The programs were created in the $2.2 trillion stimulus legislation that passed in 2020 and provided money to airline employees and states and cities.
The clash comes as the Biden administration is overseeing another $1.9 trillion in relief money and calling for $4 trillion in new spending on jobs and infrastructure programs. The vast array of government outlays is being tracked by a patchwork of oversight bodies and committees.
Miller’s office has been tracking fraud and “double dipping” in the relief programs, but his access to certain databases started to be curtailed last year in the final months of the Trump administration as the turf war between the inspectors general ensued. Miller, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, referred the matter to the Justice Department in early January, before Joe Biden took office, to get a final ruling on the scope of his powers.
In the report, Miller suggested that the “temperature has cooled on oversight” and said flatly that “things are not working well.” He warned that there would be negative consequences as a result.
“Unfortunately, many of these promising developments, including criminal investigations and leads, will now need to be closed or transferred,” Miller wrote.
Spokespeople for the White House and the Treasury Department had no immediate comment.
The report contained a letter responding to Miller’s complaints from Laurie Schaffer, the Treasury Department’s principal deputy general counsel, who said that the department believed that the special inspector general had oversight only of the Treasury’s direct loans and its investments in Federal Reserve facilities. She said that the rest of the relief funds that the department had been managing were being tracked by other oversight bodies but that the department had nevertheless tried to be cooperative.
“Treasury is dedicated to the prevention of waste, fraud and abuse, and we are committed to being responsive and helpful to SIGPR,” Schaffer wrote in the letter, dated April 27, using an abbreviation for the special inspector general.
Miller served as an inspector general for the General Services Administration from 2005 to 2014. He had been working as a White House lawyer when Trump tapped him for his current job, and Democrats, who were worried about the Trump administration’s management of relief money, were fearful at the time that Miller would be a toothless inspector general.
In the report released Friday, Miller lamented that oversight of major relief programs had been diminished and called on Congress to give his office greater authority.
“Congress can pass legislation to clarify SIGPR’s mandate to provide oversight of the Coronavirus Relief Fund, Payroll Support Program and other pandemic-related programs managed by the secretary of the Treasury,” Miller wrote. “We ask Congress to do so.”