Ex-Im critics pounce after bank yanks data

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Critics of the Export-Import Bank are seething over the removal from a government Web site of previously public data earlier they say helps them detect cronyism.

Between January 29 and February 13, officials at the bank removed disclosures listing businesses that applied for financing at the bank but were denied, a source at the bank told The Hill.

"During a regular quarterly review, it was decided to reformat the way data is presented," the source said. Under the changes, bank officials are no longer disclosing denied applicants.

But critics of the Ex-Im, created to help U.S. companies finance overseas endeavors, say that information helps illuminate how the bank chooses which businesses to finance.

Conservatives, led by House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), have criticized the bank as "cronyism" and "corporate welfare."

“Everybody knows Ex-Im picks winners and losers.  Now Ex-Im is making itself even less transparent in order to hide some of the losers," said one senior Republican aide to a House member.

Bank spokesman Matthew Bevens told The Hill that bank’s officials take "very seriously its commitment to transparency and its mission of supporting American businesses as they expand their sales through exports while creating jobs here at home."

Bevens said that "staff continuously and thoroughly reviews how the data is posted in the interest of transparency and open data, without harming the ability of our customers to export their products, create jobs, and compete fairly in the global marketplace."

Bank officials voluntarily disclose troves of data on data.gov, including information on every approved authorization from fiscal year 2006 through fiscal year 2016.

The criticism comes as Hensarling and other House Republicans are investigating the bank's transparency amidst a contentious fight for the bank's reauthorization.

Centrist Republicans and Democrats — backed by the business community — argue that the bank helps U.S. businesses make inroads overseas and sustains millions of U.S. jobs.

Congress must vote to reauthorize the bank by June 30 or it will shutdown. Most Ex-Im watchers believe the bank has the votes to survive in the Senate. Hensarling, whose panel has jurisdiction over a reauthorization bill, hasn't said whether he will move a bill through his committee.

Rep. Stephen FincherStephen FincherRep. Fincher to retire Export-Import Bank takes step toward renewal Transportation deal includes Ex-Im renewal MORE (R-Tenn.) nabbed 57 other House Republican co-sponsors on a five-year reauthorization bill for the bank that includes significant changes to its structure. House Democrats are working on their own proposal.

"Transparency at the Export Import Bank has long been a concern and must be addressed," Fincher told The Hill when asked to comment on bank officials removing the denied loan applications.

Fincher said that his reauthorization bill includes 31 reforms, including provision that "would expose the bank's activities" in part through "the creation of an audit committee."

Fincher's bill would also require bank officials to more stringent financial disclosure reporting requirements.

"The Export Import Bank is an outdated agency that must be brought up to current expectations of transparency," Fincher said.

Still, the bank source maintained  that "what you won’t find now is data from applications that never got to authorization level, and therefore did not actually affect our financing levels or portfolio or risk levels."

Veronique de Rugy, an Ex-Im critic who researches the bank as a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, criticized the bank's changing its disclosure.

"We have less information even about how the winners are picked because we can't compare with who was denied," she said. "We can't try to find a trend or a rhyme or reason for why one is accepted and the other is denied."

Dan Holler, spokesman for the conservative group Heritage Action, said that the tweaking of the disclosures shows that "data is inconvenient for the folks at Ex-Im."

"Lawmakers are smart enough to know the bank is hiding the ball," Holler said.