November 18, 2008
Is the Oversight Board Overseeing?
Posted by David Zaring

EESA put into place an arguably unconstitutional oversight board (it is majority comprised of officials the president cannot fire, a Myers problem), and invested it with rather dry powers to consult, recommend, and review Treasury's implement of the TARP.  Many have expected little from this board, so Bernanke's testimony about it today was surprising:

The legislation that created the TARP put in place a Financial Stability Oversight Board to review the actions of the Treasury in administering the program.  That Oversight Board includes the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.  We have met four times, reviewing the operational plans and policy initiatives of the TARP and discussing possible additional steps that might be taken.  Officers for the Oversight Board have been appointed, and the Federal Reserve and the other agencies are providing staff support for the board.  Minutes of each meeting are being posted to a special website established by the Treasury.

That's a lot of meetings.  What's happening in them?  In one, the board adopted bylaws, appointed a chair, and called it a day within an hour.  In the second, the board heard from Treasury on implementation, and heard from Bernanke on what the Fed was up to.  This looked less like oversight, and more like policy coordination, which is a powerful sideline indeed for the board.  The meeting lasted for 45 minutes.  In the third meeting, the Board staffed up (a GC, a secretary, etc, were appointed), the bylaws were amended, Treasury was heard from, and the FDIC was invited to make a pitch for mortgage relief.  The meeting lasted for just under 90 minutes.  The fourth meeting minutes are not up yet.

It's, in short, too soon to tell for sure, but this Board looks like it is playing an important role, not necessarily because of its oversight responsibilities, but because during its meetings the principals in the bailout are using the board as a vehicle to vet and coordinate policy - even policy not required by the statute.

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