S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Congressional Panel, Hobbled in Its Financial Inquiry

In recent months, a top investigator resigned, frustrated by delays in assembling a staff. Behind closed doors the panel’s chairman and vice chairman have had heated disagreements over whether to make public preliminary findings or revelatory documents. . .
The people appointed to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission last July, six by Democrats and four by Republicans, say they hope to publish, by the Dec. 15 deadline, a volume much like the 9/11 Commission report, which was acclaimed for its narrative sweep and became a surprise best seller.
But that goal seems increasingly out of reach, given what the commissioners themselves acknowledge has been a haphazard approach and a lack of time and resources. Given the delays, the commission’s impact on policy could be modest; the House has already voted on a sweeping financial reform bill, and the Senate could vote on it by summer.
. . . In an interview, the commission’s chairman, Phil Angelides, said the panel was struggling to satisfy a broad mandate to examine the role of 22 factors in bringing about the crisis. He pointed out that the panel had a budget of just $8 million, compared with the $38 million spent by a federal bankruptcy trustee who dissected the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Even though the panel is backward-looking and will not issue formal recommendations, Mr. Angelides said he hoped its findings would be authoritative and useful for future policy makers.
But Bill Thomas, the Republican vice chairman of the panel and a former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged, “We are limited by time.”
. . . The commission’s executive director, J. Thomas Greene, was named in September but took several months to assemble a staff of 49, leading one investigator, Martin T. Biegelman, an expert on corporate fraud, to resign during the winter. Twelve staff members are on loan from agencies like the Federal Reserve. The commission struggled to hire researchers and investigators with expertise in areas like structured finance or accounting.
. . . Commissioners also said that Mr. Angelides and Mr. Thomas recently clashed over whether to release preliminary staff reports or some of the 500,000 pages of materials that had been gathered so far. When Mr. Angelides floated the idea of releasing some of the materials to reporters, Republicans threatened to look into the panel’s work if they took control of the House, a person briefed on the dispute said. A spokesman for the panel denied that the exchange had occurred.
Ms. Murren said that it made sense to release some early findings. “A large part of our responsibility is to allow the American people to see this process as transparent and understandable,” she said. “Most people see finance as incredibly obscure. I think it would be helpful to put out a set of facts that we can all agree upon. Put them in the public domain.”
Group theory experts would have an interesting challenge in figuring out what went wrong with this commission. In contrast the 9/11 Commission seemed to have a great deal more success with its widely read and used report. My own initial take on this story is that, as always, it comes down to the qualities of leadership that appointees and staff bring to the task. People associated with the 9/11 Commission were very outstanding. I did not get that same impression regarding the current commission. Lack of money cannot be used as an excuse for political bickering and poor organizing.

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