Troubled Asset Relief Program:

Status of Efforts to Address Transparency and Accountability Issues

GAO-09-920T: Published: Jul 22, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 2009.

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Thomas J. McCool
(202) 512-8678


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

This testimony discusses our work on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), under which the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), through the Office of Financial Stability (OFS), has the authority to purchase and insure almost $700 billion in troubled assets held by financial institutions. 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 findings resulting from our oversight of the status of actions taken under the program. This statement today is based on our fifth mandated report, issued on June 17, 2009, which follows up on the previous recommendations and covers the actions taken as part of TARP through June 12, 2009. Our oversight work under the act is ongoing, and our next report will be issued later this month, and will focus on TARP's loan modification program. Specifically, this statement focuses on (1) the nature and purpose of activities that have been initiated under TARP, including repurchases of preferred shares and warrants; (2) Treasury's efforts to establish a management structure for TARP; and (3) outcomes measured by indicators of TARP's performance.

As of July 10, 2009, Treasury had disbursed about $361 billion of the roughly $700 billion in TARP funds. Most of the funds (about $204 billion) went to purchase preferred shares and subordinated debentures of 651 financial institutions under the Capital Purchase Program (CPP), which continues to be OFS's primary vehicle for stabilizing financial markets. At the same time that Treasury continues to purchase preferred shares in institutions, other institutions have paid over $70 billion to repurchase shares. As of July 10, 2009, 12 of the 33 financial institutions that repurchased their preferred shares from Treasury had repurchased their warrants and 3 others had repurchased their warrant preferred stock from Treasury at an aggregate cost of about $80.3 million. As permitted by the act--as amended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)--participants may repurchase or buy back their preferred stock and warrants issued to Treasury under CPP at any time, subject to consultation with the primary federal banking regulator. While, OFS has made progress in establishing its management infrastructure, continued attention to hiring remains important, however, because some offices within OFS, including the Office of the Chief Risk and Compliance Officer, still have a number of vacancies that will need to be filled as TARP programs are fully implemented. Treasury has continued to make progress in establishing its management infrastructure and internal controls and has responded to our two most recent contracting recommendations and continued to respond to the others. In the hiring area, Treasury has continued to establish its management infrastructure, including hiring more staff. In the internal controls area, consistent with our previous report recommendation that Treasury update the guidance that is available to the public on determining warrant exercise prices so that it is consistent with OFS's actual practices, Treasury updated its frequently asked questions on its Web site to clarify the process it follows for determining the prices. Treasury has continued to build a network of contractors and financial agents to support TARP administration and operations and has an opportunity to enhance transparency through its existing reporting mechanisms. Treasury issues a number of reports and uses other mechanisms, such as public announcements and its Web site, to provide information to the public. GAO again notes the difficulty of measuring the effect of TARP's activities. While isolating and estimating the effect of TARP programs continues to present a number of challenges, indicators of the cost of credit and perceptions of risk in credit markets suggest broad improvement since the announcement of CPP in October 2008. Nevertheless, credit market indicators we have been monitoring suggest there has been broad improvement in interbank, mortgage, and corporate debt markets in terms of the cost of credit and perceptions of risk (as measured by premiums over Treasury securities).

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