Less than half a dozen people are responsible for making the final decisions about which banks get part of the $700 billion in bailout money available through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to Department of Treasury officials. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Sunlight Foundation in January for the members of the TARP Investment Committee, a FOIA officer recently responded with just four names, including Assistant Secretary, Neel Kashkari; Chief Investment Officer, James Lambright; Acting Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets, Karthik Ramanathan and Acting Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, Ralph Monaco, all holdovers from the Bush administration.
As of March 27, 2009, Treasury had disbursed $303.4 billion of the $700 billion in TARP funds, and yet taxpayers don’t know who is making those decisions. The most recent Government Accountability Office report critiques Treasury’s process as not being sufficiently transparent. In response to the report and news stories Treasury issued a statement saying, Transparency and accountability are central to ensuring that taxpayer funds are spent wisely.
Yet even finding out how many people make decisions has required a FOIA request and multiple phone calls with dozens of offices in the federal government. And I still don’t have a definitive answer. According to a press release from November, there are two more names on the list: Don McLellan, Capital Purchase Program Manager and Howard Scheitzer, Chief Operating Officer.
In a brief phone conversation, Ralph Monaco, one of the members on the committee said, I don’t think there are supposed to be more people than these. Sometimes if they aren’t available others are appointed. But according to a Government Accountability Office official, a few of these spots on the TARP Investment Committee are filled on an interim basis because they are administrative appointees and some may need Senate Confirmation. As of yet, the Obama administration still hasn’t named those appointees.
According to a report by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the applications made by banks is first reviewed by the one of the federal banking agencies which includes the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of the Comptroller of Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision (banks regulated by the FDIC have their applications reviewed by FDIC officials, ans so on). The evaluation process begins with an FBA consultation which includes a review of the bank’s most recent financial statements and quarterly data. Once approved these applications are passed on to the TARP Investment Committee, which is made up of senior Treasury officials on financial markets, economic policy, financial institutions and financial stability. If it passes this committee it goes on to the Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability who has the final say.
I’m trying to get a comprehensive list of people involved in the decision making in all these banking agencies and so far I’ve received a list of names handling TARP related applications only from the OTS which is available online. OCC’s press person said, We are keeping the names confidential and not reveal the names keeping what we have told other reporters as well.
I’m still waiting to hear back from the Federal Reserve and the FDIC spokesperson said, they don’t have a list they can make available. Still digging, more on these soon.