Alex Wong/Getty Images

Pandemic IG: Proposed Budget Funding ‘Reaffirms’ Congress’ Commitment to Oversight

The office previously warned that it was running out of money.

The proposed funding allocated to a pandemic watchdog office from a pending appropriations package “reaffirms” Congress’ support for oversight, its leader said on Wednesday.

Last month, the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, established by the CARES Act, warned it was running out of money and without a cash infusion it would have to cease its oversight activities. Early on Wednesday morning, lawmakers announced an agreement on appropriations for the remainder of fiscal 2022, which the White House endorsed. The package would give $8,000,000 to the office “to remain available until expended.” President Biden’s budget requested $25 million for the office, while the Senate appropriations bill allocated $10 million, as noted in the special IG’s quarterly report released on Feb. 1. 

“By funding SIGPR, Congress reaffirms its commitment to oversight of CARES Act monies as SIGPR plays a pivotal role in safeguarding pandemic relief funds from fraud, waste, and abuse,” Special Inspector General Brian Miller said in a statement to Government Executive

“With adjustments the office will be able to make it through fiscal year 2022,” said an unnamed spokesperson for the office.“For fiscal year 2023 we are hopeful to receive the $25 million as listed in the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget."

Miller wrote in the opening message for the February report that “unless Congress acts, my office will run out of money in July 2022.” The $25 million in “start-up funds” from the CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, “is not enough money to establish a new law enforcement agency and maintain it through a five-year term,” he continued. During the first 15 months, the office spent about half the sum on overhead of the Treasury Department, leasing offices and paying its employees.

Miller said that his office had been working with the Treasury Department, members of Congress and the Office of Management and Budget for more than a year to try and get the office included in the annual appropriations cycle.

“We estimate that there is about $22.5 billion in outstanding Treasury loans and investments within our oversight,” Miller said. “Offices with comparable missions operate on greater budgets. Congress, for example, gave the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program $50 million in start-up funds and additional funds each year.”

The vote on the omnibus hit a last minute roadblock as there were disputes on the supplement for COVID-19 relief, which was then stripped out, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a “dear colleague” letter late Wednesday afternoon. 

The funding for the special pandemic IG is not in the section for the supplement. Since the current continuing resolution to fund the government runs through Friday, lawmakers are expected to pass another stopgap measure while lawmakers finalize and vote on the omnibus.