WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), senior members of the Senate Finance Committee, today led their colleagues in introducing the bipartisan USTR Inspector General Act of 2021. This bill would 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 in recent years has come under increased scrutiny over reports and allegations of inconsistent policy implementation, conflicts of interest, and political favoritism.
“The current lack of oversight over U.S. trade policy is problematic,” said Sen. Menendez. “The U.S. Trade Representative is responsible for developing and coordinating the implementation of U.S. international trade policy with far-reaching consequences for American workers, businesses and civil society – and as such, Americans deserve honest and transparent trade policy that prioritizes the economic interests of the country and cracks down on waste, fraud, and abuse.”
“Inspector Generals play an important role in keeping government agencies accountable and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is the only cabinet-level agency without this critical position,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation would put in place an Inspector General to provide oversight over international trade policy, which increasingly affects the everyday lives of Texas workers and businesses.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) co-sponsored Menendez and Cornyn’s legislation.
“The U.S. Trade Representative’s work to craft and enforce trade laws impacts the livelihoods of countless American workers. Creating an independent watchdog at USTR is critical to ensuring that trade policy is conducted in a transparent and consistent manner that benefits American workers and American businesses,” said Sen. Wyden.
USTR’s opaque Section 301 China tariff exclusion process last year raised concerns over its lack of transparency, inconsistent decision-making, and political favoritism. Further, last 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.
The USTR remains the only cabinet-level agency without an inspector general, which means decisions that impact billions of dollars in trade and can significantly affect American workers currently lack the same degree of oversight as other federal agencies.
Joining Sens. Menendez and Cornyn in cosponsoring this legislation are Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.).
The USTR Inspector General Act of 2021 would:
· 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, and Treasury, to perform independent oversight, increase transparency and accountability, and crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse; and
· 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.
A copy of the bill can be found HERE.