Bennet, Menendez, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Establish Independent Oversight, Increase Accountability, Transparency at Chief U.S. Trade Agency

USTR Inspector General Act of 2020 Cosponsored by All Senate Finance Committee Democrats

Denver – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and a group of their colleagues introduced 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.

“Rigorous and independent oversight is essential to giving the American people confidence in their government. This transparency should extend to America’s chief trade agency,” said Bennet. “By establishing an Inspector General for our trade representative’s office, this legislation would strengthen oversight of trade policy decisions and hold those in power accountable.”

“Americans deserve honest and transparent trade policy,” said 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.” 

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.

In addition to Bennet and Menendez, the legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators 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-Pa.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

Companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), and Judy Chu (D-Calif.).

The USTR Inspector General Act of 2020 would:

  • Establish a statutory IG for the USTR 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.

The bill text is available HERE.