Podcast Interview with Inspector General for TARP: Treasury Department Is Not Being Transparent

ABC News Political Punch Blog, July 22, 2009

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Huma Khan report:

On this week’s ABC News Shuffle podcast, we spoke to Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), who just this week released a report on the whopping potential federal obligation of the bailout and other programs to jumpstart the economy.

You can download the podcast on iTunes or listen to it HERE.

Barofsky told us that the Treasury Department “is not being transparent with respect to the TARP,” the $700 billion in funds (and more) the government is using as loans and bailouts to help stabilize the financial markets. “They’ve failed to adopt some very basic recommendations we’ve had toward transparency,” he said.

Called the “SIGTARP,” Barofsky appeared before Congress this week and told them that the government’s commitment to fix the financial system could potentially reach $23.7 trillion, and criticized the Treasury Department for calling his team’s estimate “inflated.”

“I think that the Treasury Department ought to read the report before they make comments, at least the spokesperson’s office,” Barofsky said. “Our methodology is laid out in black and white in the report. ... As far as the numbers being inflated, where do you think we got the numbers from? We got it from the Treasury Department, we got it from the Federal Reserve. ... If these numbers are inflated, it’s because they inflated them when they put them out in the public, not because of us.”

The inspector general defended the numbers outlined in his report, saying that all his team has done is to “gather the 50 programs, put them in one place, and told the American people what the government has said about the maximum of each of these programs.”

“Perhaps their criticism is that we dare to do math,” he said. He added that his team tried to convince the Treasury that they were wrong, and that recipients should be required to report on how they use the federal funds, and those should be shown to the American people so that they know it’s “not being thrown into a black hole.”

The government currently has about 50 different programs to fix the economy. Those programs include bailing out banks and automakers, and improving the housing market. Barofsky said the way his team came up with that figure is by looking at three different figures for each program.

“One, how much money is currently outstanding under the program. Two, what the high water mark has been since the inception of the bailout and then three, what is the total amount the federal government has said they’re willing to commit to each program. And at the end, we add them all up,” he explained. “That’s where the 23.7 trillion number comes from. It’s what the federal government has said would be the maximum number for each of the approximately 50 programs.”

Barofsky said “this recent attack on my report is really, in many ways, an attack on basic transparency -- of not wanting the American people in a certain way to see exactly what’s going on in their government as included in our report.” He said the Treasury Department “with respect to this program, they’ve not met their claims that this is going to be ‘unprecedented transparency,’” as President Obama suggested there would be.

We also spoke to Mr. Barofsky about whether taxpayers were misguided, on his independence being challenged by the Treasury and the personal toll of his job.

You can download the podcast on iTunes or listen to it HERE.

The podcast was produced by Huma Khan, with special thanks to Matt Jaffe.

-- Jake Tapper and Huma Khan

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