Dunford signals he won’t chair coronavirus panel in latest blow to new oversight body
Washington, July 14, 2020
Tags: Health Care
The Washington Post
Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph F. Dunford Jr. has removed himself from consideration to chair the Congressional Oversight Commission, a key mechanism created by Congress in March that is supposed to scrutinize coronavirus spending, three people familiar with the situation said Tuesday.
The five-member panel, which was established by the Cares Act, has just four members and has lacked a chairman since its creation.
Dunford’s decision is a major setback for the commission and efforts to find someone to lead it. Under the terms of the Cares Act, the chair of the bipartisan five-member commission must be appointed jointly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Pelosi and McConnell had struggled to agree on a candidate who would be acceptable to both parties and not have conflicts of interest that would preclude taking the job. Late last month, The Washington Post and other news organizations reported that Dunford had emerged as the leading candidate and was in the final stages of vetting.
But his name was never formally announced, and he recently withdrew himself from consideration, according to the people familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private discussions. The reasons were unclear, although the politics around the coronavirus pandemic have grown increasingly intense. while Dunford has sought to avoid being political.
“Ultimately, General Dunford decided his service on the Cares Commission was incompatible with his other commitments,” one of the people said.
The Congressional Oversight Commission is tasked with overseeing the $500 billion Treasury and Federal Reserve fund created by the Cares Act to lend money to corporations, municipalities and others. It is modeled after a commission created to oversee the bailout fund created during the financial crisis a decade ago, which was chaired by then-law professor Elizabeth Warren.
The other four members were appointed by each of the top party leaders in Congress. They are Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), appointed by McConnell; Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), appointed by Pelosi; Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.); and Bharat Ramamurti, who was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and is a former Warren aide.
Despite not having a chairman, the commission already has produced two monthly reports, as required by law, and is at work on a third. But the other commission members have been increasingly frustrated at not having a chairman, so they could hire staff members and operate more effectively.
It’s unclear whether there are other candidates or if the commission will have to continue without a leader. The situation underscores the challenges policymakers are facing as they try to set up oversight mechanisms for the government’s response to the pandemic and the $3 trillion of spending approved by Congress.
A spokesman for Dunford did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Paul Sonne contributed to this report.