Senate Confirms Inspector General to Oversee Virus Bailout Funds

Senate Confirms Inspector General to Oversee Virus Bailout Funds

WASHINGTON — A divided Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Brian D. Miller, a White House lawyer, to be the inspector general in charge of overseeing the Treasury Department’s $500 billion pandemic recovery fund.

The confirmation, approved 51 to 40, almost entirely along party lines, puts Mr. Miller at the center of the politically charged effort to distribute government money to businesses that have been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic and comes at a time when President Trump’s management of the bailout is under intense scrutiny.

In the role, Mr. Miller will be required to monitor the flow of the funds and report any wrongdoing to Congress.

All but one Democrat opposed his confirmation: Senator Doug Jones of Alabama.

The fund that Mr. Miller will oversee was created as part of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package that Congress passed in March to respond to the pandemic. It includes money to backstop the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending facilities and funds for loans and grants to support airlines and businesses that are critical to national security. Mr. Trump’s political opponents have already been critical of how the funds have been disbursed and accused the president of corporate cronyism.

As part of the legislation, lawmakers created a three-pronged oversight structure. It includes a special inspector general within the Treasury Department, a committee of inspectors general and a congressional oversight commission, which is selected by the majority and minority leaders of the Senate as well as the House speaker and minority leader.

Democrats have been wary of the appointment of Mr. Miller, who worked in the White House counsel’s office during Mr. Trump’s impeachment proceedings and, on at least one occasion, stonewalled an oversight request from Congress. The president has also demonstrated a penchant for firing inspectors general, raising concerns that anyone who tries to conduct independent oversight will be stymied.

Lawmakers will be watching closely to see that Mr. Miller is rigorously keeping tabs on the money. In an unusual signing statement that accompanied the stimulus law, Mr. Trump suggested he had the power to decide what information the newly created inspector general could share with Congress.

“Now that he has been confirmed as S.I.G.P.R., Mr. Miller must show Congress and the American people that he is capable of acting independently from the administration and that he will hold all bad actors accountable,” said Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, using the acronym for Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery.

Mr. Miller has been working in the White House as a senior associate counsel. However, he brings extensive oversight experience to his new job. He previously served as the inspector general of the General Services Administration from 2005 to 2014, overseeing a sprawling agency in charge of the federal government’s real estate. Before that, Mr. Miller was a former federal prosecutor who prosecuted high-profile terrorists.

At his confirmation hearing last month, Mr. Miller deflected questions about his work in the White House, but insisted that he would be an independent and impartial inspector general, even if it cost him his job.

“If the president removes me, he removes me,” Mr. Miller said. “If I am unable to do my job, I will resign.”

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