It is bad enough that most people in the U.S. now know that TARP stands for Troubled Asset Relief Program. Of course, TARP has not really relieved anyone of their troubled assets but it has paid for billions in bonuses and precious few loans. But that has not stopped the U.S. from creating an even longer, new acronym for us to learn -- special inspector-general for the troubled asset relief program (SIGTARP).
SIGTARP is run by a fellow named Neil Barofsky. And SIGTARP has conducted a survey that concludes TARP is a big success! Unfortunately, there is no independent verification of the results of the survey and the research conducted privately contradicts its findings -- but who cares? Actually, I do -- because SIGTARP now says the cost of the financial bailout -- only $700 billion of which is the TARP -- could nearly double from $12.8 trillion to $23.7 trillion, nearly twice U.S. Gross Domestic Product!
But the SIGTARP results make it sound like it believes the TARP money has been well spent. According to SIGTARP, 83 percent of the 360 TARP recipients surveyed used funds from the government for lending; 43 percent used them to boost their capital; 31 percent made other investments; 14 percent repaid debt and four percent made acquisitions.
Unfortunately, independent research suggests that between October 2008 and February 2009, lending by 21 top TARP recipient banks fell 23 percent. If SIGTARP is really serious about transparency, it should hire independent auditors to take a look at how much of the TARP money each of those 360 TARP recipients got and track how that money was actually spent.
Then those independent auditors should post the results on the Internet so we can find out what really happened to our money. Somehow I have a bit of trouble taking at face value what SIGTARP has to say about how TARP was actually used.
Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College. His eighth book is You Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing.