It's the One of the Most Important Jobs in Washington. Will Anybody Take It?

It’s the One of the Most Important Jobs in Washington. Will Anybody Take It?

It’s the highest-profile job listing in Washington these days: being the public face of one of the biggest government accountability projects in U.S. history.

The gig entails five years of exhaustive work to safeguard trillions of taxpayer dollars. The successful applicant will have years of experience in public service, comfort with constant public criticism, and a vision for the job that’s acceptable to two sworn political adversaries with an abysmal working relationship. 

And the job’s main deliverable is nothing short of ensuring that a program meant to haul the U.S. economy back from the worst crisis since the Great Depression works as intended.

Nobody said that the job in question—chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee established to oversee the enormous federal effort to rescue the economy from COVID-19—would be cushy. And few thought that the process of filling the post would be, either, given that the person would have to satisfy both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 

But few thought the process would be this hard: more than two months after the CARES Act passed, a chair for the oversight panel created by the law has not been named, because Pelosi and McConnell have not yet agreed on a chair, as required by the legislation. Some potential contenders’ names have filtered out to the press, but candidates are still being reviewed by the two leaders. Neither leader’s office provided an update to The Daily Beast on the selection process. The last time Pelosi addressed the matter publicly was May 5, when she said a chair would be named “soon.”

That delay is surprising and disturbing to the lawmakers, aides, and oversight experts who have watched as this enormous federal relief effort launches without one of the most important safeguards fully in place to ensure it works as intended. Though the panel currently has four of five members—they released a preliminary commission report in May—the lack of a chair renders the body unable to meet most of its obligations with the levels of staff and structure it needs, say experts. 

That’s troubling enough for many, but others see Pelosi and McConnell’s apparent inability to get behind a candidate as a graver signal that both sides aren’t making oversight of the COVID-19 economic package a priority. 

“Until they give a legitimate reason for this process being so incredibly slow, I keep coming back to the fact that Pelosi and McConnell were hands-on in the drafting of CARES,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project for Government Oversight, a good-government organization. “This responsibility that they agree on a chair was not a surprise to either of them…You can’t create oversight mechanisms, leave them to wither and die, and then take credit for creating oversight mechanisms.”

As the delay drags on, some on Capitol Hill are wondering who might be an ideal fit for the gig—or who in the world of politics might find this gig even close to ideal. “There may have been a few candidates who have been close. This is a really tough job and it’s a thankless job,” said an aide familiar with the commission’s operations. 

“It’s tough to find someone who’s ready, willing, and able to step into that role. It’s a limited universe of folks, and there’s a big demand,” the aide continued. “It’s a heavy load that’s going to be placed on their shoulders.”

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