CORONAVIRUS

Grassley has no concerns yet with Trump removal of pandemic relief inspector general

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives for a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, March 20, 20
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives for a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, March 20, 2020, to work on a sweeping economic rescue plan amid the pandemic crisis and nationwide shutdown. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

CEDAR RAPIDS — President Donald Trump’s removal of the inspector general tasked with leading oversight of the administration’s handling of the $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package isn’t worrying longtime congressional watchdog Sen. Chuck Grassley.

At least not yet.

Grassley, who has long advocated for inspectors general and made government oversight a priority in his 45 years in Congress, called out the president earlier this week for his firing of Mark Atkinson as the intelligence community inspector general.

In that case, Grassley and a bipartisan group of senators said Trump failed to follow the law requiring Congress be given advance notice when an inspector general in the intelligence community is removed “to ensure that inspectors general are not removed for political reasons.”

However, Grassley does not share the same concern about Trump’s removal of Glenn Fine, who was to lead a panel of inspectors general monitoring the relief package. Fine was not fired. He will return to his previous role at the Department of Defense. That change does not require prior notice to Congress.

In the group letter to the president and in remarks to reporters Thursday morning, Grassley drew a distinction between his concern with the firing of Atkinson and the reassignment of Fine.

“Well, of course he has the power to fire,” Grassley told reporters. “I’m not raising questions so much about the president’s authority to fire and hire an appointed inspector general. In this particular case, there wasn’t adequate notification of Congress.”

He noted that he had raised similar concerns when President Barack Obama fired an inspector general from the same position in the first year of his administration. President Ronald Reagan, he added, fired all inspectors general early in his first term.

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In addition to Atkinson’s firing and Fine’s removal, Trump publicly criticized an inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services following her report describing widespread testing delays and supply issues at the nation’s hospitals.

Grassley doesn’t see a pattern in the president’s actions toward inspectors general and at this time doesn’t have concerns about oversight of the coronavirus relief effort.

“Well, not yet, but maybe in a couple of months if you ask me the same question, I might have some concerns,” he said. “But right now, I don’t have anything to go on.”

His staff made clear that there is not one inspector general who will monitor the implementation of the relief program. The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, made up of inspectors general from various agencies — HHS, Small Business Administration, Treasury and Medicare and Medicaid, for example — will provide oversight. The chair will be selected by the committee, not the president.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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