“There isn’t time to waste,” Bharat Ramamurti, the first – and at the time the lone – member of the Congressional Oversight Commission (the Commission), concluded in his The New York Times op-ed on April 16, 2020. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) – with its robust oversight provisions establishing three separate oversight bodies – was signed into law on March 27, 2020. Almost a month later, there is still little oversight to speak of, although last Friday, on April 17 – finally – three additional members of the five-person Commission were appointed.
Two other oversight bodies under the CARES Act have not taken off the ground yet. As Ramamurti stressed in his tweet on April 6, the CARES Act overseers “have a serious obligation to the American people to monitor this half-trillion dollar program. Let’s get to work.” It is unclear how active the Commission as a body will be until a chair is appointed. What is clear, however, is that the Commission’s first member, Ramamurti, will likely continue his aggressive press for action. There is also mounting political pressure on companies eligible for relief under the CARES Act to receive funds only when they have a genuine need. On April 22, Harvard and Stanford decided to forego money for which they were eligible under the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, and earlier in the week, the restaurant chain Shake Shack promised to return US$10 million it received under the Paycheck Protection Program. Government agencies that are dispensing the money and companies that will be receiving it should take notice of these developments, as they make clear scrutiny will continue to intensify.