If the $2.2 trillion in stimulus money doesn’t save the national economy by buoying the businesses and people who need it most, it will be the most egregious waste of taxpayer-funded emergency relief in U.S. history.

The independent inspector general who leads the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee is critical to ensuring coronavirus relief dollars don’t end up in the pockets of profiteers and fraudsters — or the coffers of corporations more interested in stock buybacks than saving jobs and lives.

Glenn Fine, acting Pentagon inspector general and a career official who served Republican and Democratic presidents, was assigned for that role. Known for being honest, competent, tough and fair, his appointment was applauded by Republicans and Democrats alike.

President Donald Trump ousted him within days.

It was no accident. At the signing of the CARES Act, Trump immediately indicated he had no intention of allowing oversight, and would gag the special inspector general.

Fine’s sidelining should be particularly unacceptable in Colorado Springs, a city of professionals who value fiscal responsibility and ethical behavior, and know the chaos that would unfold if they dodged oversight in their own fields.

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We are a city of military service members, government and defense contractors, civil servants, nonprofit and charity workers, health care professionals and bankers. Transparency, integrity and stringent standards are written into our daily lives; the penalties for putting one’s own interests ahead of the public trust are harsh.

The executive branch should not be held to a lower standard than ordinary citizens. Congress rightly established a system of independent oversight, along with the position of independent inspector general, in response to Nixon’s abuse of executive power during the Watergate scandal.

Now is not the time to remove those guard rails — not least of all because this administration has never demonstrated restraint, efficiency or fairness in the absence of oversight.

For evidence, we need only look to the Trump administration’s tragic mishandling of money and medical equipment throughout the coronavirus pandemic, where — amidst what the Associated Press decried as “a fragmented procurement system now descending into chaos” — even the state of Colorado has had the rug pulled out from under it.

Despite telling them to secure their own resources, the federal government has been seizing critical equipment ordered by hospitals and states — including 500 ventilators ordered by Colorado.

After that seizure, and despite a formal plea for medical equipment from Gov. Jared Polis, Trump played political favorites, tweeting: “Will be immediately sending 100 Ventilators to Colorado at the request of Senator Gardner!”

Against this background of partisan chaos, as small businesses wrestle with cumbersome relief applications and ordinary Americans struggle to access unemployment benefits, giants like Boeing have rushed lobbyists to Washington to mark out their spot at the trough. With jockeying for funds well underway, Trump has even refused to rule out accepting benefits for his own winery lodge and hotels — which appear to qualify for forgivable loans from the bailout.

The danger is that, without nonpartisan oversight, this relief program becomes a slush fund for the president, his political allies and corporate friends.

Government transparency is critical in times of crisis, and an independent inspector general must police the implementation of the stimulus bill. A nonpartisan watchdog marks the difference between letting businesses, jobs and lives collapse, or giving people a way to hold on through the pandemic.

Since Sen. Cory Gardner seems to have the president’s ear — at least for now — he should step up and demand the White House adhere to the principles of accountability and fiscal responsibility that Republicans claim to espouse.

Gardner should call for Fine’s immediate reinstatement, emphasizing that nonpartisan watchdogs are essential to democracy.

Gardner must make clear that Colorado won’t engage in currying political favor; that Coloradans value transparency and fairness; that playing politics with essential aid will destroy national unity — and cost lives.

It’s past time to push our elected officials to stand against the president’s assault on independent oversight.

Editorials represent the views of the Colorado Publishing House Editorial Board.

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