May 1 (UPI) -- A watchdog tasked with overseeing trillions in pandemic-related spending said Friday that a recent Justice Department decision has "permanently reduced oversight" of specific COVID-19 relief programs.
Brian Miller, the Treasury Department's special inspector general for pandemic recovery (SIGPR), wrote in his quarterly report to Congress that his efforts were limited by decision this week by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that his jurisdiction applies only to Treasury's direct loans and the Federal Reserve's lending programs.
That leaves out the Coronavirus Relief Fund, Payroll Support Program and Paycheck Protection Program, three programs created by Congress last year to provide support to airline employees, states, cities and small businesses impacted by lockdown orders and safety restrictions.
He also said the jurisdictional decision comes after months of resistance from the Department of the Treasury and the Treasury Inspector General " due to their skepticism that SIGPR had jurisdiction to oversee the Coronavirus Relief Fund and Payroll Support Program."
Miller, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump in April and sworn in in May, wrote that his office "worked cooperatively" with the Treasury Department in the first months after his appointment, but that a jurisdictional turf war had begun that hampered his work.
"All special inspectors general share concurrent jurisdiction with their counterparts and must partner with agency inspectors general to achieve their respective statutory oversight missions," Miller wrote. "There is nothing more frustrating to achieving these missions than turf battles. Hardworking taxpayers are far better served when government resources are devoted to the public."
In the report, Miller asked Congress to pass legislation to clarify his office's mandate to provide oversight of the Coronavirus Relief Fund, Payroll Support Program, and other pandemic-related programs managed by the Treasury.
A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department told the New York Times that the stimulus programs were tracked by multiple, overlapping oversight bodies, including the Treasury inspector general, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Oversight Commission, as well as through traditional congressional oversight.
"Treasury supports strong oversight, and we will continue to make sure all of our inspectors general, congressional committees of jurisdiction, and other oversight bodies have the information they need," Alexandra LaManna, a Treasury spokeswoman, said.