On April 2, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) will chair a bipartisan House select committee overseeing the government’s coronavirus expenditures. Approval is subject to a House vote which could happen when Congress returns to session, or when a mechanism for remote voting is approved. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has argued that such a committee is unnecessary and has not yet agreed that Republicans will participate.
Speaker Pelosi explained that the Select Committee’s “purpose is to ensure that the over $2 trillion that Congress has dedicated to this battle—and any additional funds Congress provides in future legislation—are spent wisely and effectively.”
She promised on Twitter that the committee, which will have subpoena power, “will root out waste, fraud, and abuse, and ensure money makes it to those who need it most—the working families struggling to pay rent and put food on the table.” The proposed committee is modeled after the World War II-era Truman Committee, which investigated profiteering, price gouging and other abuses related to government defense funding.
As the House Majority Whip, Rep. Clyburn is the third-ranking Democrat, serving since 1993. He is known for his progressive stances on a number of issues, including health care, student loan debt and organized labor. As Rep. McCarthy highlighted, Rep. Clyburn recently referred to the phase-three coronavirus bill as “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The select committee is attracting attention from other Democrat members as well, with Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) indicating that she has requested that Speaker Pelosi appoint her to the committee.
A House select committee would add to the new watchdogs already created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act vests primary oversight responsibility in four authorities: The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the Congressional Oversight Commission and the Comptroller General Oversight and Audit Authority.
Traditional standing committees also will retain their jurisdiction, and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform is actively investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers across various committees have been considering how to best gather information and conduct investigations without in-person hearings. The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a “paper hearing” in which it will receive written testimony from Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord about the military’s response to the coronavirus, and the press has reported that the House Armed Services Committee held a members-only conference call in which they questioned Lord and other senior defense officials. Other committees are likely to adopt virtual methods of conducting oversight in the near term, particularly if the House remains adjourned past the currently scheduled date of April 20.
For further advice related to CARES Act compliance and oversight inquiries, please contact the authors of this alert. Additional information is contained in WilmerHale’s prior alert on this topic: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—Oversight Authorities and Managing New Risks.
WilmerHale regularly assists clients in responding to inquiries by congressional committees, commissions, the Justice Department and Inspectors General, and we continue to monitor developments around coronavirus-related issues closely. We also counsel compliance and risk officers. Our experienced team of lawyers and policy professionals are available to help clients navigate this challenging environment. In particular, WilmerHale has a Coronavirus Task Force and dedicated site with frequent legal updates on critical issues affecting our clients’ companies, including access to alerts, news, guidance, and analysis.