Yesterday morning, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs considered and passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) on a voice vote. The original legislation, introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), was replaced by an amendment in the nature of a substitute co-introduced by a number of committee members, including Senator Portman, and passed unanimously. The amended legislation retains the soul of the original bill, which aims to standardize and open federal spending data, while making some concerning changes. Specifically, the Senate's new version scraps strong accountability mechanisms in an effort to keep costs down and fails to solve some governance problems that have long limited accurate federal spending data.Continue reading
Michael Keller shows off Treasury.io site at Sunlight offices.
Graphics by Ben Chartoff and Amy Cesal. Network analysis by Alexander Furnas. In the three years since President Barack Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, federal regulators charged with implementing it have opened their doors to the biggest banks over and over again – 14 times as frequently as they have to representatives of consumer and pro-financial reform groups, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis finds. By most accounts, the banks’ besiege-the-regulators strategy has yielded rich rewards in sapping, slowing, and stymieing regulations intended to prevent another massive financial crisis. The emerging consensus is that Dodd-Frank implementation is limping, while the big banks are poised to return to being the most profitable industry in the U.S. Sunlight’s analysis is based on logs of Dodd-Frank meetings at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Board., available through Sunlight’s Dodd-Frank Meetings Tracker. Because of problems with data quality and comprehensiveness, we had to exclude two other regulatory agencies (the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission). And because of the time involved in data cleaning, we also excluded 22 percent of reported meetings – those that did not include “active” players. (By “active” we mean organizations that showed up at least five times in meeting logs.) For more on the data, see our methodology section at the end of this post, and read our companion piece, “Dodd-Frank meeting data need improvement.” Still, the imbalances our analysis reveals are so overwhelming that we can be confident that they are not merely a feature of the reporting practices.Continue reading
A grassroots movement with some big name support is calling for Washington’s favorite banker to cut his ties with the Fed. Some 30,000 signatures have been collected on a Change.org petition urging that the chief executive of embattled JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, resign or be removed from the New York Federal Reserve's board of directors. The petition creator, Simon Johnson, is the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. In the past Change.org waged successful campaigns on issues ranging form the Bank of America debit card fee, to working conditions in Apple’s Chinese ...Continue reading
In 2006 and 2007, at least 12 Riverside, Calif., residents with good credit found a real estate investment that seemed too good to be true. All they had to do was fill out a few forms and in return they could expect to receive checks of up to $50,000. The only problem was, the plan was a sham.
And earlier this year, Riverside county authorities finally caught up with the ploy and arrested Jose Ochoa and others accusing them with grand theft for the purported mortgage fraud. He was accused of misusing information from people with good credit to ...Continue reading
In February, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with the CEO and two top-level executives from the London-based bank HSBC to discuss the issue of foreign exchange swaps.
The bank, which has a thriving foreign exchange business, wants Geithner to exempt such swaps from new rules designed to bring transparency to the derivatives market. Under the Dodd-Frank financial law, Geithner was given authority to make this decision, which he is expected to announce any day.
Amounting in the trillions of dollars per day, foreign exchange swaps are used in business to hedge bets on transactions involving different currencies. Typically, two parties ...Continue reading
Felix Salmon, finance blogger extraordinare, was inspired by some reporting by Bloomberg to have a look at Treasury's website. Apparently Tim Geithner visited Jon Stewart back in April, and Felix was understandably interested in seeing the evidence for himself. He went to the Treasury website, and then... well, things took a turn for the worse:
First, you go to the Treasury homepage. Then you ignore all of the links and navigation, and go straight down to the footer at the very bottom of the page, where there’s a link saying FOIA. Click on that, and then on the link saying Electronic Reading Room. Once you’re there, you want Other Records. Where, finally, you can see Secretary Geithner’s Calendar April – August 2010.
Be careful clicking on that last link, because it’s a 31.5 MB file, comprising Geithner’s scanned diary. Search for “Stewart” and you won’t find anything, because what we’re looking at is just a picture of his name as it’s printed out on a piece of paper.
In other words, these diaries, posted for transparency, are about as opaque as it can get. Finding the file is very hard, and then once you’ve found it, it’s even harder to, say, count up the number of phone calls between Geithner and Rahm Emanuel. You can’t just search for Rahm’s name; you have to go through each of the 52 pages yourself, counting every appearance manually.
Is this really how Obama’s web-savvy administration wants to behave? The Treasury website is still functionally identical to the dreadful one we had under Bush, and we’ve passed the midterm elections already. I realize that Treasury’s had a lot on its plate these past two years, but much more transparent and usable website is long overdue.
This all sounds sadly familiar to me. I still remember when Treasury started posting TARP disbursement reports as CSVs instead of PDFs. I was working on Subsidyscope at the time, and had to load those reports on a weekly basis. It's more than a little sad how much better my life got when they made that change.
But I think it's important to note that Felix's frustration isn't just the product of bad technology.Continue reading
Just how effective is the Obama Administration’s effort to help homeowners stave off foreclosure? It’s hard to know, in part because detailed data that could provide part of the answer is not available to the public.
The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) started in February 2009. To date, the $75 billion program has helped about 170,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure by reducing mortgage payments, but the nuts and bolts of how loan modifications are structured, the criteria used to deny and approve modifications, and the documentation used to evaluate the original loans are unknown. The special inspector general ...Continue reading
Sigh. I feel like a disappointed parent. When the details of the Open Government Directive were announced early last December... View ArticleContinue reading