Here’s a Place to Start

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Here’s an opportunity for the new Administration. Develop a model system for government transparency in the context of bailout of Wall Street.

ProPublica has been doing an admirable job of providing some transparency for the financial bailout by the federal government, including putting it all in perspective. They are keeping a running tally of the banks that have announced preliminary approval by the Treasury Department for participation in the bailout, along with the dollar amounts to each bank. They are going to update the list as they receive more information. And here’s a chart providing some historical perspective, with a bubble chart representing the size of the 13 U.S. government bailouts of corporations (and one city) since 1970, calculated in 2008 dollars. They’ve also set up another chart listing the results of each bailout.

Others are keeping an eye on what’s going on. Bloomberg News is demanding that the Federal Reserve comply with congressional demands for transparency in the $2 trillion bailout of the banking system (BailoutSleuth.com says that it’s more like $2.5 trillion). In September, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson promised Congress they would open the books. Currently, Congress and the American people have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return. Bloomberg has filed both a Freedom of Information Act and a federal lawsuit hoping to force disclosure.  We going to dig a bit deeper into this and see if we can figure out what the requirements for transparency are.

This is a real opportunity for the Obama team. Make reporting on the bailout a model of the transparent government that they have so strongly advocated. Daily reporting, online in usable data formats would be a good place to start.

Update: From Columbia Journalism Review.

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  • Thanks, Ellen, for a very thoughtful post. We desperately need transparency as we dole out dollars we don’t have as thought we have a gun to our heads to mortgage our children’s future…