As President Donald Trump prepares to sign another bailout bill in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the leader of a national whistleblower advocacy organization says the trillions of aid dollars are at high risk for fraud, making the role of whistleblowers and inspectors general more important than ever.
In an April 21 interview with Federal News Radio, National Whistleblower Center Executive Director John Kostyack said precedent demonstrates a need for independent watchdogs when the government spends large amounts of money.
“Our long history with government spending is that the more money that goes out the door, the greater opportunities for fraud,” Kostyack said. “We’re fully expecting now to be the moment where less-than-ethical companies step forward and attempt to fleece the taxpayers, and we are in desperate need of whistleblowers and inspectors general.”
President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law on March 27, the largest emergency spending bill in U.S. history. The Act followed two other aid packages signed earlier that month, one worth $100 billion and another worth nearly $500 billion. Congress is expected to send another $500 billion bailout bill to President Trump this week, pushing the total amount of government aid over $3 trillion.
Kostyack made his comments in response not only to the release of aid money but also to the recent removal of two inspectors general by the President. One of whom was appointed to lead bailout oversight. Michael Atkinson, Inspector General for the Intelligence Community, was removed from his post on April 4, allegedly in retaliation for passing on the whistleblower complaint that led to President Trump’s impeachment. Under the Inspector General Act, the President is required to notify Congress 30 days before removing an inspector general. Although Trump provided this notification, he also undercut its purpose by placing Atkinson on administrative leave, according to Kostyack.
Four days later, Trump removed Acting Defense Department Deputy Inspector General Glen Fine from his post, thereby preventing Fine from participating in a pandemic response oversight panel that he was set to lead.
“To have the first step taken after the passage of this large-scale spending bill…be the removal of one of the inspector generals…is a fairly blatant attack on our system of checks and balances,” Kostyack said.
One of many crucial oversight roles played by inspectors general is the handling of whistleblower complaints. Whistleblowers will play a vital role in uncovering abuse in health services, elder care, and other sectors at high risk for fraud and abuse during the pandemic. “If inspector generals are sidelined, whistleblowers and the vital information they provide to the government will also suffer,” Kostyack said.