JUNE 19, 2009
The administration that promised unprecedented transparency and accountability has instead stymied independent investigations of costly government programs, kept crucial information from the public and defended its predecessor’s widely criticized secrecy policies in court.
The Obama Administration’s latest violation of its own innovative transparency guarantee involves the watchdog appointed to oversee the nation’s massive bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The measure gives Uncle Sam $700 billion to purchase bad assets—mainly subprime mortgages—from ailing banks to supposedly ease the credit crunch.
A few months ago TARP Inspector General Neil Barofsky published a scathing report revealing that the financial bailout has little oversight, is severely mismanaged and “inherently vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.” That preliminary probe led to at least 20 criminal investigations—for securities fraud, tax law violations and mortgage modification fraud—and Barofsky predicted the risk would only grow.
Now the Obama Administration is blocking Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor in New York, from further investigating what he has determined to be a troubling experiment of U.S. tax dollars. The president’s Treasury Secretary delayed at least one recent inquiry and has evidently determined that the agency (Treasury Department) Barofsky is charged with watching has legal authority over his office, which clearly threatens its independence.
The violation was made public by a Republican senator who wrote Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner a hard-hitting letter demanding an explanation for withholding information from his agency’s watchdog. The veteran lawmaker also reminds Geithner that the ability of inspectors general to secure agency records subject to audit or investigation is essential to ensure the integrity and reliability of their work.
News of this obstruction comes just a few days after Obama fired a separate government agency watchdog for exposing the fraud of a political supporter who operates a charity in northern California. The abrupt removal clearly violated a law, that Obama strongly supported as a U.S. Senator, to safeguard the independence of government agency watchdogs and shield them from political pressure.
In his short time in office the “transparent” president has repeatedly violated his own promise to give the public unprecedented access to information. He refused to provide details of transition meetings with power brokers and interest groups, his highly touted database for Americans to track “every dime” of the $787 billion stimulus bill won’t be available until half the money is spent and he rejected repeated calls to disclose how much U.S. taxpayers spent (estimates range in the tens of thousand of dollars) on his highly publicized New York date with his wife.
Obama even had his Justice Department defend a Bush secrecy rule he had harshly criticized and vowed to reverse during the presidential campaign. The president had government lawyers actually invoke the same controversial “state secrets privilege” used by George W. Bush to argue that a lawsuit brought on behalf of five terrorism suspects should not proceed because disclosing the evidence would harm national security.
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