Barofsky: We Are Headed for a Cliff Because of Housing

Editor’s Note: Hera research conducted an interview with Neil Barofsky that I think should be  read in its entirety but here the the parts that I thought were important. The After Words are from Hera.

After Words

According to Neil Barofsky, another financial crisis is all but inevitable and the cost will be even higher than the 2008 financial crisis. Based on the way that the TARP and HAMP programs were implemented, and on the watering down of the Dodd-Frank bill, it appears that big banks are calling the shots in Washington D.C. The Dodd-Frank bill left risk concentrated in a few large institutions while doing nothing to remove perverse incentives that encourage risk taking while shielding bank executives from accountability. Neither of the two main U.S. political parties or presidential candidates are willing to break up “too big to fail” banks, despite the gravity of the problem. The assumption that another financial crisis can be prevented when the causes of the 2008 crisis remain in place, or have become worse, is unrealistic. In the mean time, what Mr. Barofsky describes as a “parade of scandals” involving highly unethical and likely criminal behavior is set to continue unabated. Although the timing and specific areas of risk are not yet known, there is no doubt that U.S. taxpayers will be stuck with another multi-trillion dollar bill when the next crisis hits.

*Post courtesy of Hera Research. Hera Research focuses on value investing in natural resources based on original geopolitical, macroeconomic and financial market analysis related to global supply and demand and competition for natural resources

Excerpts from Interview:

HR: Did the TARP help to restore confidence in U.S. institutions and financial markets?

Neil Barofsky: Yes, but it was intended and required by Congress to do much more than that and Treasury said that it was going to deploy the money into banks to increase lending, which it never did.

HR: Were the initial goals of the TARP realistic?

Neil Barofsky: First, if the goals were unachievable, Treasury officials should never have promised to undertake them as part of the bargain. Second, even if the goals were not entirely achievable, it would have been worth trying. Treasury officials didn’t even try to meet the goals.

HR: Can you give a specific example?

Neil Barofsky: The justification for putting money into banks was that it was going to increase lending. Having used that justification, there was an obligation, in my view, to take policy steps to achieve that goal, but Treasury officials didn’t even try to do it. The way it was implemented, there were no conditions or incentives to increase lending.

HR: What policy steps could the U.S. Department of the Treasury have taken to help the economy?

Neil Barofsky: There are all sorts of things that Treasury could have done. For example, they could have reduced the dividend rate—the amount of money that the banks had to pay in exchange for being bailed out—for lending over a baseline, which would have decreased the bank’s obligations. Or, they could have insisted on greater transparency so that banks had to disclose what they were doing with the funds. Treasury chose not to do any of these things.

HR: Weren’t there other housing programs like the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)?

Neil Barofsky: Yes, but there were choices made to help the balance sheets of struggling banks rather than homeowners. The HAMP program was a massive failure but it wasn’t preordained. It was the result of choices made by Treasury officials.

HR: What could have been done differently in the HAMP?

Neil Barofsky: HAMP was deeply flawed with conflicts of interest baked into the program. The management of the program was outsourced to the mortgage servicers, which were thoroughly unprepared and ill equipped. The program encouraged servicers to extend out trial modifications. It was supposed to be a three month period but it often turned into more than a year. The servicers, because they could accumulate late fees for each month during the trial period, were incentivized to string the trial periods out then pull the rug out from under the homeowner, putting them into foreclosure, without granting a permanent mortgage modification. The servicers could make more money doing that then by doing mortgage modifications. If they had done permanent mortgage modifications, the banks couldn’t have kept the late fees.

HR: Are you saying that the program encouraged banks to extract as much cash as possible from homeowners before foreclosing on them anyway?

Neil Barofsky: Yes. The mortgage servicers exploited the conflicts of interest that were in the program, and blatantly broke the rules, and Treasury did nothing.

HR: When you were serving as Inspector General for TARP, you issued a report indicating that government commitments totaled $23.7 trillion. What was that about?

Neil Barofsky: $23.7 trillion was simply the sum of the maximum commitments for all the financial programs related to the financial crisis. The number was misconstrued as a liability but the government never stood to lose that much. For example, the government guarantee of money market funds was a multi-trillion dollar commitment. Of course, not all of that money could have been lost because it would have required every fund to go to zero. The government guaranteed commercial paper but, again, for that commitment to have been wiped out, every company would have had to have defaulted. But the numbers were very important in terms of transparency. All of the data were provided by the agencies responsible for the various programs, so the $23.7 trillion number was simple arithmetic. It was important to understand the scope of the extraordinary actions that were being taken.

HR: What are the potential future losses that the U.S. government—that taxpayers—might have to absorb?

Neil Barofsky: The real issue is the potential for another financial crisis because we haven’t fixed the core problems of our financial system. We still have banks that are “too big to fail.” Standard & Poor’s estimated last year that the up-front cost of another crisis, including bailing out the biggest banks yet again, would be roughly 1/3 of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) or about $5 trillion. The resulting problems will be even bigger.

HR: What were the problems resulting from the 2008 financial crisis?

Neil Barofsky: When you look at the fiscal impact of the 2008 crisis, you have to look at it not only in terms of lost tax revenues and increased government debt, but also in terms of the loss of household wealth. People who became unemployed suffered tremendous losses and the government’s social benefit costs expanded accordingly. One of the reasons we had the debt ceiling debate last year, when the U.S. credit rating was downgraded, and why we are facing a fiscal cliff ahead is the legacy of the 2008 crisis.

We have a lot less dry powder to deal with a new crisis and we almost certainly will have one.

HR: Why do you expect another financial crisis?

Neil Barofsky: It just comes down to incentives. A normally functioning free market disciplines businesses. The presumption of bailout for “too big to fail” institutions changes the incentives of a normally functioning free market. In a free market, if an institution loads up on risky assets with too little capital standing behind them, it will be punished by the market. Institutions will refuse to lend them money without extracting a significant penalty. Counterparties will be wary of doing business with companies that have too much risk and too little capital. Allowing “too big to fail” institutions to exist removes that discipline. The presumption is that the government will stand in and make the obligations whole even if the bank blows up. That basic perversion of the free market incentivizes additional risk.

HR: Are “too big to fail” banks taking more risks today than they did before?

Neil Barofsky: Bailouts give bank executives an incentive to max out short term profits and get huge bonuses, because if the bank blows up, taxpayers will pick up the tab. The presumption of bailout increases systemic risk by taking away the incentives of creditors and counterparties to do their jobs by imposing market discipline and by incentivizing banks to act in ways that make a bailout more likely to occur.

HR: Is it just a matter of the size of banking institutions?

Neil Barofsky: The big banks are 20-25% bigger now than they were before the crisis. The “too big to fail” banks are also too big to manage effectively. They’ve become Frankenstein monsters. Even the most gifted executives can’t manage all of the risks, which increases the likelihood of a future bailout.

HR: Since bank executives are accountable to their shareholders, won’t they regulate themselves?

Neil Barofsky: The big banks are not just “too big to fail,” they’re ‘too big to jail.’ We’ve seen zero criminal cases arising out of the financial crisis. The reality is that these large institutions can’t be threatened with indictment because if they were taken down by criminal charges, they would bring the entire financial system down with them. There is a similar danger with respect to their top executives, so they won’t be indited in a federal criminal case almost no matter what they do. The presumption of bailout thus removes for the executives the disincentive in pushing the ethical envelope. If people know they won’t be held accountable, that too will encourage more risk taking in the drive towards profits.

HR: So, it’s just a matter of time before there’s another crisis?

Neil Barofsky: Yes. The same incentives that led to the 2008 crisis are still in place today and in many ways the situation is worse. We have a financial system that concentrates risk in just a handful of large institutions, incentivizes them to take risks, guarantees that they will never be allowed to fail and ensures that the executives will never be held accountable for their actions. We shouldn’t be surprised when there’s another massive financial crisis and another massive bailout. It would be naïve to expect a different result.

HR: Didn’t the Dodd-Frank bill fix the financial system?

Neil Barofsky: Nothing has been done to remove the presumption of bailout, which is as damaging as the actual bailout. Perception becomes reality. It’s perception that ensures that counterparties and creditors will not perform proper due diligence and it’s perception that encourages them to continue doing business with firms that have too much risk and inadequate capital. It’s perception of bailout that drives executives to take more and more risk. Nothing has been done to address this. The initial policy response by Treasury Secretaries Paulson and Geithner, and by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, was to consolidate the industry further, which has only made the problems worse.

HR: The Dodd-Frank bill contains 2,300 pages of new regulations. Isn’t that enough?

Neil Barofsky: There are tools within Dodd-Frank that could help regulators, but we need to go beyond it. The parade of recent scandals and the fact that big banks are pushing the ethical and judicial envelopes further than ever before makes it clear that Dodd-Frank has done nothing, from a regulatory standpoint, to prevent highly unethical and likely criminal behavior.

HR: Is the Dodd-Frank bill a failure?

Neil Barofsky: The whole point of Dodd-Frank was to end the era of “too big to fail” banks. It’s fairly obvious that it hasn’t done that. In that sense, it has been a failure. Dodd-Frank probably has been helpful in the short term because it increased capital ratios, although not nearly enough. If we ever get over the counter (OTC) derivatives under control, that would be a good thing and Dodd-Frank takes some initial steps in that direction. I think that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a good thing.

Nonetheless, the financial system is largely in the hands of the same executives, who have become more powerful, while the banks themselves are bigger and more dangerous to the economy than before.

HR: How are OTC derivatives related to the risk of a new financial crisis?

Neil Barofsky: Credit default swaps (CDS) were specifically what brought down AIG, and synthetic CDOs, which are entirely dependent on derivatives contracts, contributed significantly to the financial crisis. When you look at the mind numbing notional values of OTC derivatives, which are in the hundreds of trillions, the taxpayer is basically standing behind the institutions participating in these very opaque and, potentially, very dangerous markets. OTC derivatives could be where the risks come from in the next financial crisis.

HR: Can anything be done to prevent another financial crisis?

Neil Barofsky: We have to get beyond having institutions, any one of which can bring down the financial system. For example, Wells Fargo alone does 1/3rd of all mortgage originations. Nothing can ever happen to Wells Fargo because it could bring down the entire economy. We need to break up the “too big to fail” banks. We have to make them small enough to fail so that the free market can take over again.

HR: Does the political will exist to break up the largest banks?

Neil Barofsky: The center of neither party is committed to breaking up “too big to fail” banks. Of course, pretending that Dodd-Frank solved all our problems, as some Democrats do, or simply saying that big banks won’t be bailed out again, as some Republicans have suggested, is unrealistic. Congress needs to proactively break up the “too big to fail” banks through legislation. Whether that’s through a modified form of Glass-Steagall, size or liability caps, leverage caps or remarkably higher capital ratios, all of which are good ideas, we need to take on the largest banks.

HR: Do you think the U.S. presidential election will change anything?

Neil Barofsky: No. There’s very little daylight between Romney and Obama on the crucial issue of “too big to fail” banks. Romney recently said, basically, that he thinks big banks are great and the Obama Administration fought against efforts to break up “too big to fail” banks in the Dodd-Frank bill. Geithner, serving the Obama White House, lobbied against the Brown-Kaufman Act, which would have broken up the “too big to fail” banks.

HR: What will it take for U.S. lawmakers to finally take on the largest banks?

Neil Barofsky: Some candidates have made reforms like reinstating Glass-Steagall part of their campaigns but the size and power of the largest banks in terms of lobbying campaign contributions is incredible. It may well take another financial crisis before we deal with this.

HR: Thank you for your time today.

Neil Barofsky: It was my pleasure.

Barofsky: HOW TARP FAILED HOMEOWNERS

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“The act’s emphasis on preserving homeownership was particularly vital to passage. Congress was told that TARP would be used to purchase up to $700 billion of mortgages, and, to obtain the necessary votes, Treasury promised that it would modify those mortgages to assist struggling homeowners. Indeed, the act expressly directs the department to do just that.”


Where the Bailout Went Wrong

By NEIL M. BAROFSKY

Washington

TWO and a half years ago, Congress passed the legislation that bailed out the country’s banks. The government has declared its mission accomplished, calling the program remarkably effective “by any objective measure.” On my last day as the special inspector general of the bailout program, I regret to say that I strongly disagree. The bank bailout, more formally called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, failed to meet some of its most important goals.

From the perspective of the largest financial institutions, the glowing assessment is warranted: billions of dollars in taxpayer money allowed institutions that were on the brink of collapse not only to survive but even to flourish. These banks now enjoy record profits and the seemingly permanent competitive advantage that accompanies being deemed “too big to fail.”

Though there is no question that the country benefited by avoiding a meltdown of the financial system, this cannot be the only yardstick by which TARP’s legacy is measured. The legislation that created TARP, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, had far broader goals, including protecting home values and preserving homeownership.

These Main Street-oriented goals were not, as the Treasury Department is now suggesting, mere window dressing that needed only to be taken “into account.” Rather, they were a central part of the compromise with reluctant members of Congress to cast a vote that in many cases proved to be political suicide.

The act’s emphasis on preserving homeownership was particularly vital to passage. Congress was told that TARP would be used to purchase up to $700 billion of mortgages, and, to obtain the necessary votes, Treasury promised that it would modify those mortgages to assist struggling homeowners. Indeed, the act expressly directs the department to do just that.

But it has done little to abide by this legislative bargain. Almost immediately, as permitted by the broad language of the act, Treasury’s plan for TARP shifted from the purchase of mortgages to the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation’s largest financial institutions, a shift that came with the express promise that it would restore lending.

Treasury, however, provided the money to banks with no effective policy or effort to compel the extension of credit. There were no strings attached: no requirement or even incentive to increase lending to home buyers, and against our strong recommendation, not even a request that banks report how they used TARP funds. It was only in April of last year, in response to recommendations from our office, that Treasury asked banks to provide that information, well after the largest banks had already repaid their loans. It was therefore no surprise that lending did not increase but rather continued to decline well into the recovery. (In my job as special inspector general I could not bring about the changes I thought were needed — I could only make recommendations to the Treasury Department.)

Meanwhile, the act’s goal of helping struggling homeowners was shelved until February 2009, when the Home Affordable Modification Program was announced with the promise to help up to four million families with mortgage modifications.

That program has been a colossal failure, with far fewer permanent modifications (540,000) than modifications that have failed and been canceled (over 800,000). This is the well-chronicled result of the rush to get the program started, major program design flaws like the failure to remedy mortgage servicers’ favoring of foreclosure over permanent modifications, and a refusal to hold those abysmally performing mortgage servicers accountable for their disregard of program guidelines. As the program flounders, foreclosures continue to mount, with 8 million to 13 million filings forecast over the program’s lifetime.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has acknowledged that the program “won’t come close” to fulfilling its original expectations, that its incentives are not “powerful enough” and that the mortgage servicers are “still doing a terribly inadequate job.” But Treasury officials refuse to address these shortfalls. Instead they continue to stubbornly maintain that the program is a success and needs no material change, effectively assuring that Treasury’s most specific Main Street promise will not be honored.

Finally, the country was assured that regulatory reform would address the threat to our financial system posed by large banks that have become effectively guaranteed by the government no matter how reckless their behavior. This promise also appears likely to go unfulfilled. The biggest banks are 20 percent larger than they were before the crisis and control a larger part of our economy than ever. They reasonably assume that the government will rescue them again, if necessary. Indeed, credit rating agencies incorporate future government bailouts into their assessments of the largest banks, exaggerating market distortions that provide them with an unfair advantage over smaller institutions, which continue to struggle.

Worse, Treasury apparently has chosen to ignore rather than support real efforts at reform, such as those advocated by Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to simplify or shrink the most complex financial institutions.

In the final analysis, it has been Treasury’s broken promises that have turned TARP — which was instrumental in saving the financial system at a relatively modest cost to taxpayers — into a program commonly viewed as little more than a giveaway to Wall Street executives.

It wasn’t meant to be that. Indeed, Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals — whether born of incompetence, timidity in the face of a crisis or a mindset too closely aligned with the banks it was supposed to rein in — may have so damaged the credibility of the government as a whole that future policy makers may be politically unable to take the necessary steps to save the system the next time a crisis arises. This avoidable political reality might just be TARP’s most lasting, and unfortunate, legacy.

Neil M. Barofsky was the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program from 2008 until today.

GRETCHEN MORGENSON Takes the Lead in Media Coverage of Mortgage Meltdown in NY Times

NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE/AMAZON
Gretchen Gets It. The entire article is worth reading and even studying. If you get what she is saying, you can understand just how false this Waltz has been.

“The very design of the federal assistance to A.I.G. was that tens of billions of dollars of government money was funneled inexorably and directly to A.I.G.’s counterparties.” The report noted that this was money the banks might not otherwise have received had A.I.G. gone belly-up.

Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Société Générale and other banks were in the group that got full value for their contracts when many others were accepting fire-sale prices.

Ms. Tavakoli argues that Goldman should refund the money it received in the bailout and take back the toxic C.D.O.’s now residing on the Fed’s books — and to do so before it begins showering bonuses on its taxpayer-protected employees.

According to an e-mail message that Goldman sent to the New York Fed at the time, Mr. Geithner talked about the article with Mr. Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, before calling me. When Mr. Geithner called, he said that Goldman had no exposure to an A.I.G. collapse and that the article had left an incorrect impression about that. When I asked Mr. Geithner if he, as head of the regulatory agency overseeing Goldman, had closely examined the firm’s hedges, he said he had not.

Probing, in-depth analyses of regulatory responses to the financial meltdown are worth their weight in gold. Mr. Barofsky’s certainly is. Yet in its rush to put financial reforms into effect, Congress seems uninterested in investigating or grappling with truths contained in such reports — and until it does, our country’s economic and financial system will continue to be at risk.

November 22, 2009
Fair Game

Revisiting a Fed Waltz With A.I.G.

A RAY of sunlight broke through the Washington fog last week when Neil M. Barofsky, special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, published his office’s report on the government bailout last year of the American International Group.

It’s must reading for any taxpayer hoping to understand why the $182 billion “rescue” of what was once the world’s largest insurer still ranks as the most troubling episode of the financial disaster. And it couldn’t have come at a more pivotal moment.

Many in Washington want to give more regulatory power to the Federal Reserve Board, the banking regulator that orchestrated the A.I.G. bailout. Through this prism, the actions taken in the deal by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the time, grow curiouser and curiouser.

Of special note in the report: the Fed failed to develop a workable rescue plan when A.I.G., swamped by demands that it pay off huge insurance contracts that it couldn’t make good on as the economy tanked, began to sink. The report takes the Fed to task as refusing to use its power and prestige to wrestle concessions from A.I.G.’s big, sophisticated and well-heeled trading partners when the government itself had to pay off the contracts.

The Fed, under Mr. Geithner’s direction, caved in to A.I.G.’s counterparties, giving them 100 cents on the dollar for positions that would have been worth far less if A.I.G. had defaulted. Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Société Générale and other banks were in the group that got full value for their contracts when many others were accepting fire-sale prices.

On the question of whether this payout was what the report describes as a “backdoor bailout” of A.I.G.’s counterparties, Mr. Barofsky concluded: “The very design of the federal assistance to A.I.G. was that tens of billions of dollars of government money was funneled inexorably and directly to A.I.G.’s counterparties.” The report noted that this was money the banks might not otherwise have received had A.I.G. gone belly-up.

The report zaps Fed claims that identifying banks that benefited from taxpayer largess would have dire consequences. Fed officials had refused to disclose the identities of the counterparties or details of the payments, warning “that disclosure of the names would undermine A.I.G.’s stability, the privacy and business interests of the counterparties, and the stability of the markets,” the report said.

When the parties were named, “the sky did not fall,” the report said.

Finally, Mr. Barofsky pokes holes in arguments made repeatedly over the past 14 months by Goldman Sachs, A.I.G.’s largest trading partner and recipient of $12.9 billion in taxpayer money in the bailout, that it had faced no material risk in an A.I.G. default — that, in effect, had A.I.G. cratered, Goldman wouldn’t have suffered damage.

In short, there’s an awful lot jammed into this 36-page report.

Even before publishing this analysis, Mr. Barofsky had made a name for himself as one of the few truth tellers in Washington. While others estimate how much the taxpayer will make on various bailout programs, Mr. Barofsky has said that returns are extremely unlikely.

His office has also opened 65 cases to investigate potential fraud in various bailout programs. “When I first took office, I can’t tell you how many times I’d be having a sit-down and warning about potential fraud in the program and I would hear a response basically saying, ‘Oh, they’re bankers, and they wouldn’t put their reputations at risk by committing fraud,’ ” Mr. Barofsky told Bloomberg News a little over a week ago, adding: “I think we’ve done a good job of instilling a greater degree of skepticism that what comes from Wall Street isn’t necessarily the holy grail.”

Mr. Barofsky says the Fed failed to strong-arm the banks when it was negotiating payouts on the A.I.G. contracts. Rather than forcing the banks to accept a steep discount, or “haircut,” the Fed gave the banks $27 billion in taxpayer cash and allowed them to keep an additional $35 billion in collateral already posted by A.I.G. That amounted to about $62 billion for the contracts, which the report describes as “far above their market value at the time.”

Mr. Geithner, who oversaw those negotiations, said in an interview on Friday that the terms of the A.I.G. deal were the best he could get for taxpayers. He considered bailing out A.I.G. to be “offensive,’ he said, but deemed it necessary because a collapse would have undermined the financial system.

“We prevented A.I.G. from defaulting because our judgment was that the damage caused by failure would have been much more costly for the economy and the taxpayer,” Mr. Geithner said. “To most Americans, this looked like a deeply unfair outcome and they find it hard to see any direct benefit. But in fact, their savings are more valuable and secure today.”

The report said that while bailing out Goldman and other investment banks might not have been the intent behind the Fed’s A.I.G. rescue, it certainly was its effect. “By providing A.I.G. with the capital to make these payments, Federal Reserve officials provided A.I.G.’s counterparties with tens of billions of dollars they likely would have not otherwise received had A.I.G. gone into bankruptcy,” the report stated.

As Goldman prepares to pay out nearly $17 billion in bonuses to its employees in one of its most profitable years ever, it is important that an authoritative, independent voice like Mr. Barofsky’s reminds us how the taxpayer bailout of A.I.G. benefited Goldman.

A Goldman spokesman, Lucas van Praag, said that Goldman believed “that a collapse of A.I.G. would have had a very disruptive effect on the financial system and that everyone benefited from the rescue of A.I.G.” Regarding his firm’s own dealings with A.I.G., Mr. van Praag said that Goldman believed that its “exposure was close to zero” because it insulated itself from a downturn in A.I.G.’s fortunes through hedges and collateral it had already received. (Goldman’s complete response is here.)

The inspector noted in his report that Goldman made several arguments for why it believed it was not materially at risk in an A.I.G. default, but he is skeptical of the firm’s reasoning.

So is Janet Tavakoli, an expert in derivatives at Tavakoli Structured Finance, a consulting firm. “On Sept. 16, 2008, David Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, said that whatever the outcome at A.I.G., the direct impact of Goldman’s credit exposure would be immaterial,” she said. “That was false. The report states that if the New York Fed had negotiated concessions, Goldman would have suffered a loss.”

The report says that Goldman would have had difficulty collecting on the hedges it used to insulate itself from an A.I.G. default because everyone’s wallets would have been closing in a panic.

“The prices of the collateralized debt obligations against which Goldman bought protection from A.I.G. were in sickening free fall, and the cost of replacing A.I.G.’s protection would have been sky-high,” she said. “Goldman must have known this, because it underwrote some of those value-destroying C.D.O.’s.”

Ms. Tavakoli argues that Goldman should refund the money it received in the bailout and take back the toxic C.D.O.’s now residing on the Fed’s books — and to do so before it begins showering bonuses on its taxpayer-protected employees.

“A.I.G., a sophisticated investor, foolishly took this risk,” she said. “But the U.S. taxpayer never agreed to be a victim of investments that should undergo a rigorous audit.”

Perhaps Mr. Barofsky will do that audit, and closely examine the securities that A.I.G. insured and that Wall Street titans like Goldman underwrote.

Goldman contends that it had a contractual right to the funds it received in the A.I.G. bailout and that the securities it returned to the government in the deal have increased in value.

For his part, Mr. Geithner disputed much of the inspector general’s findings. He also took issue with the conclusion that the Fed failed to develop a contingency plan for an A.I.G. rescue and largely depended on plans proffered by the banks themselves.

He said the report’s view that the Fed didn’t use its might to get better terms in the rescue was unfair. “This idea that we were unwilling to use leverage to get better terms misses the central reality of the situation — the choice we had was to let A.I.G. default or to prevent default,” he said. “We could not enforce haircuts without causing selective defaults and selective defaults would have brought down the company.”

Mr. Geithner also said that the “perception that this decision by the government, not my decision alone, was made to protect any individual investment bank is unfounded.”

Less than two weeks after the A.I.G. bailout, Mr. Geithner took the firm’s side when he criticized a Sept. 28, 2008, article in The New York Times that I wrote about the A.I.G. bailout. That article included Goldman’s statement that it wouldn’t have been affected by an A.I.G. collapse. Among other things, the article, like Mr. Barofsky’s report, questioned Goldman’s assertion.

According to an e-mail message that Goldman sent to the New York Fed at the time, Mr. Geithner talked about the article with Mr. Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, before calling me. When Mr. Geithner called, he said that Goldman had no exposure to an A.I.G. collapse and that the article had left an incorrect impression about that. When I asked Mr. Geithner if he, as head of the regulatory agency overseeing Goldman, had closely examined the firm’s hedges, he said he had not.

Mr. Geithner told me on Friday that he spoke with Mr. Viniar that day to ensure that Goldman’s hedges were adequate. And, notwithstanding the inspector general’s findings, he said he still believes Goldman was hedged.

Probing, in-depth analyses of regulatory responses to the financial meltdown are worth their weight in gold. Mr. Barofsky’s certainly is. Yet in its rush to put financial reforms into effect, Congress seems uninterested in investigating or grappling with truths contained in such reports — and until it does, our country’s economic and financial system will continue to be at risk.

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