Mr. O’Donnell’s replacement of Mr. Fine, who remains the No. 2 official at the Pentagon’s watchdog office, does not mean that Mr. O’Donnell becomes the chairman of the pandemic oversight efforts. The larger group of inspectors general will now need to decide whom among their number to select to fill that vacancy.
Last week, in announcing Mr. Fine’s short-lived role, Mr. Horowitz had praised him as “uniquely qualified” to run oversight of “large organizations,” citing his 11 years as the top Justice Department watchdog and his four years serving as the top Pentagon one.
“The inspector general community recognizes the need for transparency surrounding, and strong and effective independent oversight of, the federal government’s spending in response to this public health crisis,” Mr. Horowitz said at the time.
Late last month, several hours after Mr. Trump signed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus bill with fanfare on television, he issued a signing statement challenging a key safeguard congressional Democrats insisted upon as a condition of approving $500 billion in corporate bailout funds: that an inspector general be empowered to demand information about how the Treasury Department spends the money and who would be required to tell Congress if executive branch officials unreasonably balk.
In his signing statement, Mr. Trump effectively declared that he could control what information goes to Congress about any disputes over access to information about how and why the money is spent.
Then late on Friday night, Mr. Trump fired the inspector general for the intelligence community, Mr. Atkinson, whose insistence on telling Congress about a whistle-blower complaint about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine triggered impeachment proceedings last fall. Circumventing a law that requires 30-day notice to Congress before that official can be removed, he also placed Mr. Atkinson on immediate administrative leave.
At the same time, Mr. Trump also announced a slew of inspector general nominees, including a White House aide, Brian D. Miller, to be the watchdog over how the Treasury Department spends $500 billion in corporate relief, and Jason Abend, a Customs and Border Protection official, as the new Defense Department inspector general.