Among the chief concerns surrounding the Bush administration’s $700-billion Wall Street rescue plan has been the startling absence of oversight that accompanies it.
The White House brought this upon itself: The original draft included language exempting the Treasury secretary from scrutiny “by any court of law or any administrative agency.” The last time Congress OK’d something that sweeping, they got the war in Iraq.
Fearing a similar power grab, lawmakers in recent days have floated the creation of an oversight board, charged with providing monthly reports and annual audits detailing what the Treasury’s been up to.
Taking that a step further, a bipartisan group of 32 senators is now pushing for creation of a whole new inspector general’s office to oversee the bailout. In a letter delivered Thursday to House and Senate leaders from both parties, the senators imply that their support for the plan hinges on the inclusion of such an overseer. From the letter:
Proper oversight will require not only our constant effort, but the full-time attention of an office with only one task: to monitor this extremely complex effort with a team of expert personnel who will not be distracted by other duties. This office must be given the power to investigate and audit, with the ability to issue subpoenas for any necessary documents. It must report to Congress a complete set of facts about the activities of the Treasury Department and its contractors every 120 days.
The administration is asking the American people to put up $700 billion in a crisis, to execute a rescue plan for a faltering financial system. If Americans are to assume that level of risk, they deserve the action and advocacy of a team that wakes up every morning with one mission in mind: to track in the greatest detail possible the efforts of the Treasury Department in order to hold the officials executing the plan accountable, allowing Congress to properly monitor this unprecedented effort.
Sounds almost like Congress has learned a lesson.
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