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Whitmer creates own oversight panel for coronavirus spending

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created a COVID-19 Office of Accountability within the State Budget Office Monday to monitor spending related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The office will monitor all funds deployed by the state to address the virus.

Until a permanent leader is appointed, the accountability office will be led by Michelle Lange, chief of staff for Whitmer appointee Tricia Foster, the director of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

The creation of the office comes as Michigan uses funds from the treasury, federal government and philanthropy to address the pandemic. The oversight mechanism will include regular reports to the governor and state budget director on spending. 

"Michiganders have the right to expect that state government will be responsible stewards of their resources, especially in a time of crisis," Whitmer said. "I will continue to work around the clock to ensure these resources are spent wisely, in compliance with the law, and in a transparent and accountable manner.” 

In April, the Legislature appointed a bicameral, bipartisan oversight committee to review the governor's response to the coronavirus crisis. The committee developed after the governor scrapped plans for a controversial contact tracing contract with a Democratic strategist. 

During a Monday press conference, Whitmer said she would comply with the committee's requests for documents and calls for testimony from her department heads. 

"We will always be very transparent and responsive when inquiries are made because I think the people of this state have the right to know their government is working for them," Whitmer said. 

The address comes as the state's apparent plateau in coronavirus cases and deaths has prompted pushes for loosened restrictions on resident movement and activities. 

On Sunday, Michigan reported 29 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 4,049. The state's confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 547 Sunday for a total of 43,754. 

The state also reported 15,659 recoveries from the virus as of Friday. Recovery numbers include COVID-19 positive individuals who are still living 30 days after developing their first symptoms. 

GOP legislative leaders have clashed with Whitmer in recent weeks over the continuation of her emergency powers without assurances of gradual changes to the governor's stringent stay home order. 

Amid a heated protest Thursday, the GOP-led Legislature approved resolutions allowing Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield to file lawsuits challenging Whitmer's emergency powers. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com