Democratic leaders in Congress and the Bush administration told Americans last fall that the $700 billion banking bailout included limits on executive compensation. Now it's becoming clear those provisions may have no teeth — and that must change.

According to New York's state comptroller, Wall Street firms paid $18.4 billion in bonuses late last year — even as many recorded massive losses and received bailout money.

... The bonus tally is 44 percent lower than in 2007. But last year's figure was still the sixth-largest on record ...

Some executives argue ... that bonuses are needed to retain talented employees. With banks laying people off in the midst of a terrible recession, that argument is disingenuous at best. ...

That's why the paying out of these bonuses warrants examination from federal regulators.

... The Treasury Department also needs to ensure that no bailout money was used to pay bonuses. Just as important, it's time the department made the bailout program truly transparent so the public can examine what each bank is doing with the bailout money. Bank officials are only required to state they are complying with the program's limits on executive pay, but they don't have to release information to verify those assertions.

That's not transparent — and it's up to President Obama and his administration to change it.