Geithner Champions TARP Disclosure

The Senate Finance Committee approved Timothy Giethner’s nomination for Treasury secretary Thursday in a 18-5 vote, sending it to to the full Senate for final clearance — but not without pinging him on a number of hot-button issues, including the transparency of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Geithner fervently urged would be implemented under the Obama administration. The Obama administration will require publicly traded banks receiving government aid to provide a full disclosure of lending patterns each quarter, as well as an explanation of “factors that influenced their decisions,” Treasury Secretary-nominee Timothy Geithner said Thursday in a written response to senators’ questions. Geithner also said the Obama administration will require that dividend payments by firms granted “exceptional assistance” under the $700 billion rescue program be restricted to a penny until the government has been repaid. Outgoing Treasury secretary Henry Paulson and his team have been under extreme fire from Congress, as well as the Government Accountability Office, to require banks account for their usage of government funds, in an effort to provide full disclosure to Congress and the public alike as to where and why funds are being spent. It’s a concern that has mounted in recent weeks after word that Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (C) were granted additional government aid — a move that leaves many wondering “where did all the money go?” Addressing that basic question, said TARP’s Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky in a letter to Senator Charles Grassley, is critical to credible and effective oversight. President Obama and many lawmakers are concerned banks aren’t using bailout money to up the volume of loans available for businesses and consumers. Geithner said, however, the new administration’s requirements look to address this issue. According to Geithner, the administration will disclose the amount of money it’s investing in each institution, the value of the investment, the schedule by which banks will make payments to the government, and the amount of warrants received, in addition to their strike prices. In his letter to Grassley, Barofsky said he too plans to ask all financial institutions getting aid to account for the money and describe how they’ve complied with executive pay. As of now, he said the institutions’ use of federal dollars “remains almost entirely opaque,” because their contracts with the Treasury don’t require them to track the money. “We strongly believe that the transparency of this program must be improved,” Geithner wrote. Write to Kelly Curran at Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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