Hold Put On Bailout Oversight Office


According to TPM Muckraker, a Senate Republican placed a secret hold on the nomination of Neil Barofsky to lead the office of special inspector for the bailout.

Earlier this month, the Bush administration nominated Neil Barofsky, a federal prosecutor, to be the Treasury Department’s special inspector general on the bailout program. That’s a crucial post, given the astronomical sums at issue, the broad authority that Treasury has been given to distribute them, the concerns that have been raised about possible conflicts of interest, and the general urgency of our efforts to prevent an economic collapse.

So you’d think Congress would be doing everything it could to get Barofsky confirmed right away. You’d be wrong.

Last week, Sen. Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the banking committee, issued a little-noticed statement saying that although the nomination “was cleared by members of the Senate Banking Committee, the leadership of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and all Democratic Senators,” it was “blocked on the floor by at least one Republican member.” (itals ours.)

We’ve had our fair share of experience with secret holds, having fought to reveal the identities of those secretly blocking the Coburn-Obama bill (FFATA) and the campaign finance e-filing bill (S. 223). The first thing of note is that secret holds were, for the most part, abolished during the 110th Congress. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act mandated the disclosure of the identity of a senator secretly blocking a “measure or matter” “not later than 6 session days” after the initiation of the hold.

The Barofsky nomination provides a good example of the loopholes in this mandate of disclosure. If a bill or, in this case, a nomination comes up prior to a long recess, the disclosure of the offending senator’s identity will have to wait until the Senate reconvenes for at least 6 session days, not calendar days. So far, since the nomination was blocked, the Senate convened for two session days. While they are expected to convene tomorrow for a pro forma session, it is unknown whether the Senate will convene for four more days by the end of the year.

TPM Muckraker suspects Sen. Jim Bunning to be the secret hold senator, having opposed the full funding of the office that Barofsky is nominated to lead. If you can’t wait another four session days to find out who is blocking oversight of the $700 billion bailout, feel free to call your senator and ask. Leave your findings in the comments or head over to TPM Muckraker and let them know.