Taxpayers got the short end of the stick Thursday when Phil Angelides, Democratic chairman of the taxpayer-funded Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, released the panel’s final report on the causes of the Great Recession. Rather than provide a bipartisan view of the origins of the financial crisis, as mandated by Congress, the panel split along partisan lines due to Angelides’ refusal to incorporate the views of Republican members. So, instead of one consensus report, there are three competing assessments (that of the majority, a minority report signed by three Republican members, and an individual dissent by Commissioner Peter Wallison).
Commissioner Douglas Holtz-Eakin told The Examiner that the Republican commissioners would provide edits to drafts of the report, only to have returned new drafts that still didn’t reflect their changes, only “to be asked at the last minute to sign off.” Vice chairman Bill Thomas, former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Examiner that he was exasperated by such tactics: “I was not aware that the material we thought had been cooperatively agreed to wasn’t in [the report] because it didn’t pass muster.” In fact, Thomas said, Angelides “went through by himself and made changes which were not known until the document was presented to the commission.” Holtz-Eakin added that “the fact that we have to guess at what the process [to write the report] was shows you exactly the problem with the commission.”
More than 700 interviews were conducted by FCIC staff, most of which had no input from commissioners on the questions to be asked. In fact, the commissioners had no idea many of them were happening at all, having not been invited to sit in on important meetings such as those with executives of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or with Council of Economic Advisers chairman Larry Summers. The obstructions didn’t stop there, either. A commission staff member who requested anonymity told The Examiner that interactions with commissioners were rare. Commissioners, in turn, spoke of the difficulty of not having access to staffers.
Angelides did not respond to The Examiner’s request for comment, but the tales of obstructionism related by Thomas and Holtz-Eakin are certainly consistent with our own experience. Despite numerous requests from The Examiner over the last year, Angelides refused to release information about how he spent his taxpayer-funded $9.8 million budget (or whether he spent more than he was allocated). He also refused the newspaper’s request for a list of the commission’s staff, including each individual’s compensation and expenses. We can only hope that Angelides lives up to his pledge to publish on the Web the materials obtained during the commission’s investigation so that the public can finally decide for themselves what caused the financial crisis and whether this commission was just another example of Washington waste.