The last time Congress disgorged billions of dollars to treat a national emergency, some of the money went to an evening reception for housing counselors who enjoyed strawberry shortcake martinis and were served from a carved beef station.

Such questionable spending would be a plum target for watchdogs charged with monitoring the $2 trillion coronavirus relief voted by Congress. But first they’ll have to be assigned to the job. Three weeks after Congress set the spending in motion, and with money beginning to flow to thousands of businesses and millions of households, there’s little progress on naming overseers for the cascade of spending.

Congress is out of town until next month, while a congressional panel that is to have five members limps along with one appointee, who has no staff and can wield little more than a Twitter account. President Donald Trump has signaled hostility to oversight, sidelining the inspector general named to monitor all pandemic spending, and clashing with Democrats over how much independence to grant the overseers.

“The money is already out the door, and there’s no one watching where it’s going,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a group that monitors government spending. “There’s been a lot of talk but nothing has happened with any of the oversight mechanisms.”

The sooner oversight begins, the better, according to Christy Goldsmith Romero, special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program -- the program known as TARP that Congress passed in 2008 to help recover from what was then the worst slump since the Great Depression. In its decade-plus of work, Romero’s office has brought investigations resulting in the recovery of $11 billion, and 300 defendants sentenced to prison, according to its tally.

Early in TARP’s life, the inspector general’s office helped ensure aid money flowed quickly, offering advice on loosening overly strict credit-eligibility criteria and cutting needless regulations, Romero said.

“The other thing that’s really important to jump on right away are the scams,” Romero said in an interview. “There’s bound to be fraud whenever there’s that much money going out the door.”

Already, the Small Business Administration said a $349 billion relief program for small businesses has run out of money after approving more than 1.6 million applications. Direct payments are flowing to tens of millions of households. And the Treasury and Federal Reserve have joined forces to push $4.5 trillion in stimulus to combat the coronavirus crisis, with the central bank lending directly to main street businesses for the first time since the Great Depression.

The overlapping oversight entities have yet to gain traction.

No confirmation hearing has been set in the Senate for Trump’s choice for special inspector general for pandemic relief, Brian Miller, a White House lawyer. The Republican chairman of the Banking Committee, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, said in a statement Thursday that he would convene a hearing “as soon as can be safely done.”

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