Menendez Leads Finance Dems in Introducing Bill to Establish Independent Oversight, Increase Accountability, Transparency at Chief US Trade Agency
Aug 06 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) and a number of colleagues in introducing bicameral legislation to establish an Inspector General (IG) for the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to provide independent oversight, and increase transparency and accountability at the agency which has recently come under increased scrutiny over reports and allegations of political favoritism, inconsistent policy implementation and conflicts of interest.
“Americans deserve honest and transparent trade policy,” said Sen. Menendez. “Recent reports of political favoritism, opaque decision-making, and conflicts of interest highlight just how dangerous it can be when an Administration hides public business from the American people. This bill will help ensure that trade policy is determined by our country’s economic interests – and no one else’s.”
“Sunlight remains the ultimate disinfectant, and that is especially true when it comes to our trade policy,” said Rep. Pascrell. “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. The opaqueness and outright corruption of 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.”
In a June hearing, Sen. Menendez confronted USTR Robert Lighthizer over allegations that President Trump asked Chinese President Xi to make agricultural purchases to help him in the election. "Because if it's true, it shows how clear it is that the administration doesn't really have any intention of actually solving our trade problems with China,” Menendez said.
USTR’s Section 301 China tariff exclusion process has raised concerns over its lack of transparency, inconsistent decision-making, and political favoritism. Further, in June, Bloomberg reported that two USTR employees who helped negotiate USMCA may have violated federal law barring conflicts of interest when they offered their services as private-sector advisers to future clients while still on the federal payroll.
USTR is one of the only cabinet-level agencies without an IG, which means decisions that impact billions of dollars in trade are currently without the same degree of oversight as other federal agencies.
The legislation is co-sponsored by all the Democratic Finance Committee members, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.-02), Peter DeFazio (Ore.-04), Alcee Hastings (Fla.-20), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio-09), Jim McGovern (Mass.-02), Frank Pallone (N.J.-06), Jose Serrano (N.Y.-15) and Judy Chu (Calif.-27) are cosponsoring the companion bill in the House.
- Establish a statutory IG for the United States Trade Representative under the Inspector General Act of 1978, similar to IGs for the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, Justice, Treasury, etc. to perform independent oversight, improve transparency and accountability, and crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse;
- Require the president to appoint an individual to serve as USTR IG, subject to advice and consent of the Senate, not later than 120 days after enactment; and
- Direct the USTR IG to commence an audit of the Section 301 China tariff exclusion process within 180 days of enactment.
A copy of the bill can be found here.