Coverage of tax breaks included in the stimulus, which account for roughly one third of the total investment, is particularly weak. The Tax Policy Center has the most comprehensive information on the stimulus tax cuts. TPC’s “Tax Stimulus Report Card” outlines the tax provisions included in the stimulus, their estimated cost, and a subjective analysis on their effectiveness. But The Tax Policy Center doesn’t provide a way to localize stimulus tax information, or show how to report on the impact of tax breaks in a given community. Here’s an example of their work.
In covering the bailout, again, the key challenge is that the government hasn’t released full information about the activities of all government agencies administering it, including the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
The Treasury has released information on funds that it’s disbursed, primarily through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Thanks to news and government-accountability organizations, much of the data on TARP disbursements is available for free.
The Federal Reserve hasn’t released information on the assets it’s acquired, or the terms of acquisition. Several news organizations, including Bloomberg and Fox Business, sued the Fed for this information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)— the Fed argued that it’s not technically a government agency bound by FOIA’s requirements. (Bloomberg won its case against the Fed in August; the Fed has appealed and the case is now pending. Fox News lost its case against the Fed in July.)
The FDIC has provided guarantees to banks on their deposits, but ultimately whether and how this all plays out depends on how many banks actually fail.
We’ve listed below key sources that cover the bailout, including the information and services offered as well as the limitations of the data. Let’s start with the governmental stuff, particularly the agencies created in response to the bailout:
Congress created the Congressional Oversight Panel when TARP was implemented, in order to “review the current state of financial markets and the regulatory system” (according to the COP Web site).
Through regular reports, COP is supposed to oversee the Treasury’s actions and evaluate market transparency. In September, COP released this report on TARP funding in the government bailout of Detroit bigs General Motors and Chrysler.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“SIGTARP”) was established by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (“EESA”).
SIGTARP, headed by Special Inspector General Neil M. Barofsky—profiled in Mother Jones as “the taxpayers’ $3 trillion watchdog“—scrutinizes TARP activity. Regular audits and reports to Congress are available on the SIGTARP web site.
The following sites are also good for stats and banking basics:
The Federal Reserve releases federal reserve bank stats every Thursday.
The Financial Stability Plan’s site allows users to track where the Treasury has funded transactions through the Capital Purchase Program, and a “decoder” glossary of financial terms for all of those confusing acronyms, among other tools. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s and FDIC’s sites provide the bank-regulation basics.
SubsidyScope, an enterprise funded by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Sunlight Foundation, aims to make available information on all federal subsidies (eventually). The Web site specializes in federal assistance to the financial sector, most of which is related to the bailout; recently, it added a section on transportation transportation, with plans to track coverage of energy, healthcare, housing, agriculture, and philanthropy subsidies as well.
The free site features information on government assistance to the financial sector culled from a variety of government sources including the Federal Assistance Awards Data Set (FAADS), which is administered by the Census Bureau; the Federal Procurement Data Set (FPDS) by the General Services Administration; and information from the Treasury’s Joint Committee on Taxation, with data from other sources where appropriate. Users can search for data by issuing agency, program, and, in the case of TARP money, location. The interactive TARP map allows users to see where TARP money was spent in total and by institution. You can also find information on a particular bank’s involvement in TARP and the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program (TLGP) through the “Find My Bank” function on their homepage.