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Coronavirus oversight panel staffs up

Posted April 27, 2020 2:40 p.m. EDT

— The committee of inspectors general investigating the coronavirus pandemic response -- which lost its chair earlier this month thanks to President Donald Trump -- named its top staffer and launched a website to help the public track its investigations.

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which was created by Congress in the CARES Act, selected former inspector general Robert Westbrooks to be executive director of the committee that will examine the coronavirus outbreak response and the trillions being spent to prop up small businesses and help corporations.

The PRAC is made up of 21 members from offices of inspector general across the federal government, and it's intended to help coordinate their investigations into various elements of the outbreak response. But the committee has gotten off to a rocky start after naming then-acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine as chairman of the committee. A week later, Trump replaced Fine as head of the Defense Department inspector general office -- which in turn made him ineligible to serve on the coronavirus panel, let alone lead it.

The move is one of several the President has taken sparking concerns Trump won't play ball with the numerous bodies now tasked with overseeing all elements of the government's response to the worst public health crisis in a century.

In addition to the inspectors general committee, the CARES Act created a new special inspector general for pandemic recovery, a five-member Congressional Oversight Committee and provided an influx of funding to the nonpartisan congressional watchdog Government Accountability Office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also created her own new select subcommittee in the House to investigate the coronavirus response.

A new chairperson has yet to be named to the PRAC, but several inspectors general have already announced or begun audits and investigations into the pandemic as well as the emergency relief laws that approved trillions in new spending.

Westbrooks is a veteran of the inspectors general committee, serving in the independent offices that oversee the Small Business Administration, Transportation Department, US Postal Service and National Archives. He was most recently the inspector general for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

"I look forward to working with the entire oversight community -- federal, state, and local -- to coordinate and conduct independent oversight over these critically important emergency relief programs, and help ensure that funds are used effectively and efficiently and major program risks are addressed," Westbrooks said in a statement announcing his new role.

In addition to announcing Westbrook's hiring, the inspectors general committee unveiled a new website that will house their work keeping tabs on the $2-trillion-plus that was allocated in the emergency relief measures.

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