In the Loop: The TARP police are hiring

By Al Kamen
Monday, December 14, 2009

Most everyone has blasted TARP, the $700 billion Troubled Assets Recovery Program, for doing everything for banking fat cats and their bonuses but nothing for Main Street or the working people hammered by the Great Recession.

That's clearly untrue. Plenty of jobs have been created. First of all, there are about 200 people at the Treasury Department, in the Office of Financial Stability (OFS), running the bailout program, which was set up in fall 2008 to keep the financial system from crashing.

Moreover, given the size of the TARP checkbook -- not to mention the cash sloshing about, going in, out or down the drain with all the potential for waste, fraud and abuse -- the program needed close oversight.

So Congress set up SIGTARP, headed by Special Inspector General Neil M. Barofsky, a veteran federal prosecutor from New York who seems to be patterning himself as a modern-day Eliot Ness. (The legendary Ness, of "Untouchables" and Al Capone fame, was a Treasury Department Bureau of Prohibition agent.)

Barofsky, ensconced in an airy office at Treasury, is determined to keep an eye on every dime. He regularly takes the Treasury Department to task for undue secrecy or for allowing banks to misuse the money. Some of his auditors have not only green eyeshades but also badges and guns. They even wear SIGTARP windbreakers (similar to the ones used by the FBI and other agencies) when raiding banks and arresting criminals trying to cash in on TARP. And they borrow other law enforcement agents as needed.

Barofsky's operation has about 90 folks, but he's ramping up to as many as 160, making it one of the largest offices in the Treasury Department -- and giving him the option of playing one-on-one, rather than zone, against the OFS.

While the OFS issues regular reports, SIGTARP issues regular audits and quarterly reports to Congress. The Government Accountability Office also keeps an eye on TARP, and the Congressional Oversight Program (COP, of course) also looks into the program's effectiveness.

Aggressive oversight and transparency are obviously important and to the good. Even better, every time overseers demand an answer, someone at TARP has to respond. The more questions, the more responses; the more responses, the more staffers have to be added to the TARP office.

Jobs? You betcha. This is a perpetual-motion job-creation machine.

A man of conviction

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been under intense pressure from Washington to do something, anything, to show even a hint of commitment to lessening corruption in that benighted country. He has decried the "culture of impunity."

And last week, Afghan authorities proudly announced that the mayor of Kabul had not only been accused of abusing his position but also had been sentenced to a four-year prison term in what they described as a major corruption investigation.

Kabul Mayor Mir Abdul Ahad Sahebi "has been sentenced to four years' imprisonment for misusing his authority . . . and illegal activities, and an order for his arrest has been issued," an official told Reuters on Tuesday.

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