Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. introduced bicameral legislation intended to establish an Inspector General (IG) for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), arguing the office needed more oversight, transparency, and accountability.
The legislators cited reports that alleged USTR engaged in political favoritism, inconsistent policy implementation, and conflicts of interest. The legislation would seek to mitigate these issues.
“Our nation’s trade policies impact virtually every aspect of our economy and so Americans deserve to know that they are being formulated free of tainting influences and double-dealing,” said Rep. Pascrell.
Filling a Gap in Oversight
The Office of the USTR is one of the few cabinet-level agencies without an IG. According to the lawmakers, this allows the agency to make decisions impacting billions of dollars without the same oversight that protects against abuse.
The legislators noted ProPublica and Bloomberg stories that alleged improper behavior amid workers in the agency. One report found two USTR negotiators may have violated federal law by offering services as private-sector advisors to future clients while still on federal payroll.
“The opaqueness and outright corruption of (President Donald) Trump’s regime has revealed the need for a watchdog in all corners of our government. Our bill will ensure our trade policy will not be wielded for personal or political gain,” said Sen. Menendez.
The USTR Inspector General Act of 2020
Under the act, a statutory IG for the USTR would be created under guidelines of the Inspector General Act of 1978. This IG would have similar powers to those overseeing the Defense, State, Justice, Treasury, and similar departments.
The president would be required to appoint the USTR IG no later than 120 days after enactment. Senate input and advice would be required in the decision-making process.
Additionally, the USTR IG, after instated, would have 180 days to commence an audit of the Section 301 tariff exclusion process. The effort would seek to ensure USTR did not violate the law when establishing the list.