Auditor says Treasury keeping quiet on TARP money losers

The Treasury Department has been disclosing financial information about bailout programs in press releases only if the initiatives are expected to bring money in to the government, a new federal audit has found.

The Government Accountability Office found that financial information for Troubled Asset Relief Program initiatives that are projected to cost the government money long-term — like the injection of capital into American International Group — were not included in Treasury releases.

“Although press releases for programs expected to result in a cost to Treasury provide useful transaction information, they exclude lifetime, program-specific cost estimates,” GAO, Congress’s investigative arm, said in its report.

Treasury, GAO found, would include dollar figures for initiatives like the Capital Purchase Program, which was aimed at increasing capital in major banks and is expected to bring income in to the government over its lifetime.

In the end, Treasury agreed with the auditor’s recommendation that it include cost estimates for all TARP programs in its releases — whether they would cost the government money in the end or not.

But a Treasury official also noted to The Hill that the department does publicly disclose financial information about bailout programs — even those losing money — in other ways, including through a daily TARP update on its website.

The official also pointed to a June 2011 release on the bailout of Chrysler, in which Treasury said it was unlikely to get back $1.3 billion of the $12.5 billion allocated to the automaker.

During the 2008 fiscal crisis, Congress gave Treasury the authority to use up to $700 billion to help stabilize the markets. According to GAO, Treasury now estimates that the bailout will have a lifetime cost of $70 billion.

This post was updated at 10:15 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2012.