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Peeking Under the TARP

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, January 13 2009

People seemed to enjoy the last YouTube video we posted from TARP overseer Elizabeth Warren, so hey, let's go back to that well. Warren, you might remember, heads up the congressionally-mandated panel whose job it is to watch over how the Treasury Department manages the $700 billion or so in funds allocated for the financial industry bailout. That's a big job, of course. And in the time-honored Washington tradition of creating critically-important commissions and then leaving appointees to fend for themselves, we learned from Warren's last video that the Congressional Oversight Panel (which goes by the awesome shorthand of "COP") that the commission had yet to procure a coffee maker.

YouTube, though, sets up Warren to route around all those inadequacies facing her five-member commission. Resources be damned, she's making her case directly to the people. It doesn't, however, seem like a whole lot of people are paying attention.

What we learn from this new video is potentially even more troubling than the fact that the COP isn't getting its caffeine fix. The Treasury Department, says Warren, is failing. The commission put 45 questions about the methods and progress of the bailout to Hank Paulson and his team, and they "offered no response of any kind to 26 questions." The answers to the questions they did deign to answer to were of "mixed" responsiveness.

Among the congressional queries the department left blank: "What is Treasury's vision of the problem?"

Warren details why Treasury's non-response to that most essential of questions is concerning in a 65-page report issued alongside the video. Alas, COP released the study in PDF, but we've posted in in Scribd:

Substance aside for a moment, it's remarkable to me to see someone given a critical job like this by Congress -- which is, frankly, a feather in the cap of an academic like Warren -- immediately react by setting up the video camera and letting it roll. It wasn't all that long ago that it was just about inconceivable that a member of Congress would lower themselves to actually maintain a blog.

Warren is doing what she can to make Congress's oversight of TARP as transparent and participatory as possible. But the question is whether anyone is watching. As I mentioned in today's digest, about being posted for about four days, this latest video has been viewed only about 400 times.