By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009
Congressional investigators are criticizing the Obama administration for failing to police deals in which banks participating in the $700 billion federal bailout lent billions of dollars overseas, highlighting the growing political tension over the extent of government involvement in firms receiving taxpayer funds.
A report by a House oversight panel, which was described to The Washington Post in advance of its release this week, raises questions about a $8 billion financing deal for Dubai by Citigroup (recipient of at least $45 billion in bailout funds); a $1 billion investment in India by J.P. Morgan (which got $25 billion from the government rescue); and a $7 billion investment in China by Bank of America (which got $45 billion from the bailout).
"When the American people find that their tax dollars, which were supposed to be used to get us out of this financial crisis, instead are being used to ship jobs and investments overseas, there will be outrage," said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), chairman of the domestic policy subcommittee for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The report is a memo by that panel's Democratic staff.
The report underscores the political strain between some lawmakers, who are pressing for much more government involvement in banks that receive federal assistance, and officials at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, who say it is impractical and counterproductive to approve every aspect of a bank's operation.
"We haven't seen this report so we cannot comment on its contents," Treasury spokesman Isaac Baker wrote in an e-mail. "But the Administration's new Financial Stability Plan requires banks to detail how government funds will be used to increase or preserve lending and report back on their lending activity every month."
The overseas deals by the banks were not illegal, the report concluded, and it is impossible to know whether they were funded with bailout dollars. The transactions also involve relatively tiny amounts of money for multitrillion-dollar companies that operate in dozens of countries.
But congressional investigators nonetheless said they were troubled that Treasury oversight and reporting requirements did not force the banks to disclose the deals, which they said reflects a lack of scrutiny of the bailout.
Under the bailout's largest program, only the 20 largest recipients of money are required to file reports with the program's overseers, the report said, while the other 297 are not. The investigators also said that Treasury has not deployed personnel to any of the largest participants, other than a minimal presence at two. Even the filings required of the 20 largest recipients provide general monitoring of the bailout money's impact on lending activities, not the overall use of the taxpayer dollars, the subcommittee concluded.
"As a result, Treasury has limited ability to detect or prevent waste and abuse," the report concludes.
The report also raises questions about Goldman Sachs's $2 billion repurchase of its own stock in December, which caused the share value to increase almost 20 percent. That would have been a significant financial benefit for senior executives, who usually own large amounts of company stock. Congressional investigators are looking at whether the deal was an inappropriate way to enrich those top employees despite a public clamor for strict limits on executive compensation.
Spokesmen for the banks either declined to comment or did not respond to e-mail and telephone messages yesterday.
"Treasury has not safeguarded taxpayers' money, yet Treasury is prepared to keep investing in a failed economic strategy when they don't even know what happened to the money they gave in the first place," Kucinich said. "This is a textbook definition of a taxpayer's nightmare."