Troubled Asset Relief Program:

Status of Efforts to Address Transparency and Accountability Issues

GAO-09-539T: Published: Mar 31, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2009.

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This testimony discusses our work on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), under which the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) has the authority to purchase and insure up to $700 billion in troubled assets held by financial institutions through its Office of Financial Stability (OFS). As Congress may know, Treasury was granted this authority in response to the financial crisis that has threatened the stability of the U.S. banking system and the solvency of numerous financial institutions. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (the act) that authorized TARP on October 3, 2008, requires GAO to report at least every 60 days on the findings resulting from our oversight of the actions taken under the program. We are also responsible for auditing TARP's annual financial statements and for producing special reports on any issues that emerge from our oversight. To carry out these oversight responsibilities, we have assembled interdisciplinary teams with a wide range of technical skills, including financial market and public policy analysts, accountants, lawyers, and economists who represent combined resources from across GAO. This testimon is based primarily on our March 31, 2009 report that we are issuing today--the third under the act's mandate, which covers the actions taken as part of TARP through March 27, 2009, and follows up on the recommendations we made in our previous reports.

As of March 27, 2009, Treasury had disbursed $303.4 billion of the $700 billion in TARP funds. Most of the funds (about $199 billion) went to purchase preferred shares of 532 financial institutions under the Capital Purchase Program (CPP)--Treasury's primary vehicle under TARP for stabilizing financial markets. Treasury has continued to take significant steps to address all of the recommendations from our December 2008 and January 2009 reports. In particular, Treasury has recently expanded the scope of the monthly CPP surveys of the largest institutions to include all institutions participating in the program, which is intended to provide Treasury with information necessary to begin to track the effectiveness of the program. Treasury also continued to make progress in several other areas, including requiring firms participating in certain new programs to show how assistance will expand lending. These requirements will better enable Treasury to determine what institutions plan to do with any capital infusions and to track the resulting lending activity of participating institutions on a regular basis. In addition, we specifically found that though Treasury is now receiving dividends from the investments it has made in CPP and certain other programs, it has not publicly reported these receipts, which totaled almost $2.9 billion through March 20, 2009. In February 2009, Treasury announced its broad strategy for using the remaining TARP funds and provided the details for its major components in the following weeks. Specifically, Treasury announced the Financial Stability Plan, which outlined a comprehensive set of measures to help address the financial crisis and restore confidence in our financial markets, and a Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan to mitigate foreclosures and preserve homeownership. While articulating its plan was an important first step, Treasury continues to struggle with developing an effective overall communication strategy that is integrated into TARP operations. Without such a strategy, Treasury may face challenges, should it need additional funding for the program. Also, while Treasury has announced up to $70 billion dollars in assistance to AIG--more assistance than has been announced for any other single institution to date--it has yet to disperse the up to $30 billion of additional assistance or finalize the agreement. We continue to note the difficulty of measuring the effect of TARP's activities. Developments in the credit markets have generally been mixed since our January 2009 report. Some indicators revealed that the cost of credit has increased in interbank and corporate bond markets and decreased in mortgage markets, while perceptions of risk (as measured by premiums over Treasury securities) have declined in interbank and mortgage markets and risen in corporate debt markets.

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