Troubled Asset Relief Program:

Continued Attention Needed to Ensure the Transparency and Accountability of Ongoing Programs

GAO-10-933T: Published: Jul 21, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 2010.

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Richard J. Hillman
(202) 512-8678


Office of Public Affairs
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This testimony discusses our work on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which Congress established on October 3, 2008 in response to the financial crisis that threatened the stability of the U.S. financial system and the solvency of many financial institutions. Under the original TARP legislation, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) had the authority to purchase or insure $700 billion in troubled assets held by financial institutions. As we have seen, since TARP's inception Treasury has chosen to use those funds for a variety of activities, including injecting capital into key financial institutions, implementing programs to address problems in the securitization markets, providing assistance to the automobile industry and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), and working to help homeowners struggling to keep their homes. Today, some of these programs have been discontinued and others are winding down, but others--such as homeownership preservation programs--may continue for some time. Treasury has also seen some participating institutions repay their TARP funds as they recover their financial health. The prospect for repayment from some other institutions, both large and small, remains unclear. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (the act) that authorized TARP required GAO to report at least every 60 days on findings from our oversight of actions taken under the programs. We have been monitoring TARP programs since their inception and our reports have highlighted challenges facing many of these programs. To date, we have issued over 25 reports and testimonies related to TARP and made over 50 recommendations to improve the transparency and accountability of its operations. This statement today draws primarily on 7 reports we have issued since October 2009. Specifically, this statement focuses on (1) the nature and purpose of activities that have been initiated under TARP and ongoing challenges, (2) the process for making decisions related to unwinding TARP programs, and (3) indicators of credit conditions in markets targeted by TARP programs. To do our work, we reviewed our prior reports and other documents provided by Treasury's Office of Financial Stability (OFS) and conducted interviews with Treasury and OFS officials. In addition, we have updated the program's receipts and disbursements through June 30, 2010, and indicators of credit markets as of July 1, 2010. We conducted these performance audits between July 2009 and June 2010 and updated information in July 2010 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

Treasury has initiated a number of programs under TARP, some of which have ended or are being unwound. Others will continue. Among the programs no longer making commitments are the Capital Purchase Program (CPP) and Targeted Investment Program (TIP), while the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and new small business lending initiatives are expected to continue for some time. Although Treasury has received significant repayments of the funding it provided to financial institutions, some investments and loans could still result in substantial losses to the government. We have been monitoring TARP programs since their inception. In particular, Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Company (GM) have shown some indications of progress toward returning to profitability, such as doing better than they and Treasury had initially projected in terms of revenues, operating earnings, and cash flow. However, the extent to which the federal government will fully recoup its investment in the auto industry is uncertain, and the companies face several challenges in the coming years. Since early 2009, we have also been monitoring the status of federal assistance to AIG and its financial condition using indicators we developed. In April 2010, we reported that our indicators showed that AIG's financial condition has remained relatively stable largely due to the federal assistance provided by the Federal Reserve and Treasury, but the extent to which the federal government will recoup its investment remains uncertain and will not only depend on the AIG's financial condition but also other market factors such as the performance of the insurance sectors and the credit derivatives markets that are beyond the control of AIG or the government. Many of our reports have also highlighted the challenges facing TARP programs and made recommendations to enhance transparency and accountability of its programs. We reported that while Treasury had taken some steps to address these challenges it urgently needed to finalize and implement the various components of HAMP and ensure the transparency and accountability of these efforts. We will continue to monitor these programs and have ongoing work on several facets of TARP, including those initiatives that have a small business focus. We have also reviewed Treasury's framework for deciding to extend TARP beyond December, 31, 2009, and found that the process was sufficient but could be strengthened for similar decisions that will need to be made in the future. Specifically, we found that the extent of coordination could be enhanced and formalized between Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and recommended that Treasury formalize coordination with FDIC for future decisions. Although the authority for TARP is set to expire soon, Treasury will continue to face decisions in winding down programs, and many of these decisions will require interagency coordination. Because TARP will be unwinding concurrently with other important regulatory interventions, decisions about the sequencing of the exits from the programs will require regulators to work closely together. We have noted in past reports that some of the anticipated effects of TARP on credit markets and the economy had materialized and that some securitization markets had experienced a tentative recovery. Indicators we have been monitoring suggest that credit markets have been able to sustain their recovery despite the winding down of key programs initiated by the Federal Reserve, Treasury, FDIC and others. However, a slow recovery does not necessarily mean that TARP is ineffective, because in absence of TARP it is possible that foreclosure and delinquency rates would be higher. Finally, because any new TARP activity will be limited to home ownership preservation and small business lending programs, we will also continue to monitor indicators such as foreclosure and delinquencies as potential measures of the programs' success.

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