Of the three monitors established by the legislation that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), only one has the authority to prosecute criminals. That is the Office of the Special Inspector General (SIGTARP) whose motto is “Advancing Economic Stability through Transparency, Coordinated Oversight and Robust Enforcement.” The Special Inspector General in charge, Neil Barofsky, told Congress before the recess that he was by-passing the Rogue Treasury to get answers directly from TARP recipients about what they are doing with the bailout money. Now, SIGTARP has set up a hotline (877-SIG2009) for citizens to report fraud or “evidence of violations of criminal and civil laws in connection with TARP.” To date, they have received 200 tips and launched 20 criminal investigations.
What started out as a bailout costing $750 billion quickly turned into $3 trillion – an amount about equal to the U.S. government’s 2008 budget. This week, SIGTARP released a 250-page report in an attempt to place “the scope and scale [of TARP] into proper context” and to make the program understandable to “the American people.” I can’t recommend that you read a report of that length, or even that you download it (more than 10 megabytes) unless you have broadband internet access. (In fact, I don’t understand what makes them think that the American people are going to understand anything that takes 250 pages to explain… Isn’t over-complicating one of the problems they want to solve?) You can get all the high points in Barofsky’s statement to the Joint Economic Committee, which is only 7 pages and a few hundred kilobytes. If you have more time than patience, you can watch the testimony on C-SPAN.
I applaud the hard work of the SIGTARP to provide oversight to Treasury even though they are “currently working out of the main Treasury compound.” Let’s hope they can break free of the hazards associated with the self-regulation that got us into this financial mess in the first place.