If you're looking for clear answers as to how the Department of Treasury is attempting to fix the current financial crisis (or even just monitor whether the actions taken so far are working, you will not find them in the first report released by the Congressional Oversight Panel entrusted with acting as a watchdog over the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
But if you're looking for leading questions that demonstrate the complete scorn that the Oversight Panel, chaired by Harvard University law professor Elizabeth Warren, has for Treasury's inconsistent, ad hoc and zig-zag efforts to avert the collapse of the U.S. financial system, then you will enjoy the 38-page report, which also works quite well as a detailed summary of Treasury's actions to date.
We are here to ask the questions that we believe all Americans have a right to ask: who got the money, what have they done with it, how has it helped the country, and how has it helped ordinary people?
(Ultra-conservative House Republican Jeb Hensarling, chosen by House Minority Leader John Boehner as the minority party's representative on the oversight panel, refused to sign off on the report. As he ineffectively explained to the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, he was unable to "ensure that every panel member has the resources and rights necessary to conduct effective oversight," or that "the panel officially adopts a serious agenda that truly brings transparency and accountability to the process." Translated into partisan English, what he means is, "As a powerless member of the party that steered the country into this catastrophe, I have no control over what these liberal maniacs say, so I'm just going to stick my fingers in my ears and go nyah, nyah, nyah.")
Here's an example of Warren's style:
3. Is the Strategy Helping to Reduce Foreclosures? What steps has Treasury taken to reduce foreclosures? Have those steps been effective? Why has Treasury not generally required financial institutions to engage in specific mortgage foreclosure mitigation plans as a condition of receiving taxpayer funds? Why has Treasury required Citigroup to enact the FDIC mortgage modification program, but not required any other bank receiving TARP funds to do so? Is there a need for additional industry reporting on delinquency data, foreclosures, and loss mitigations efforts in a standard format, with appropriate analysis? Should Treasury be considering others models and more innovative uses of its new authority under the Act to avoid unnecessary foreclosures?
That is, to put it mildly, a mouthful, and there are nine other questions just like it, each one of which manages to stick a stiletto into the Treasury Department's guts, while making quite clear what priorities the Oversight Panel supports. There's also a heaping dose of passive-aggressive derision, such as the following.
It is unclear whether there have been any efforts to assess the business plans, the management, or the accounting and general transparency of firms receiving aid from the Capital Purchase Program.
There are, however, some questions that are not leading at all. Like No. 4: What have Financial Institutions Done with the Taxpayer's Money Received So Far?
Which seems like a simple enough query. But somehow I'm not too confident that Hank Paulson is going to satisfy Elizabeth Warren's curiosity in a timely manner. So let's hope the Treasury secretary-in-waiting, Timothy Geithner, is paying attention. Because these questions will not go away, and in just over a month, he is the man who is going to have to answer them.