Salvage the Financial Crisis Commission With a Document Dump

Keith Hennessey, one of the four Republican commissioners on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, has helpfully provided a copy of the Financial Crisis Primer the commissioners sent to the President and Congress. The commissioners sent the primer “to as best we can comply with the deadline in the law”, writes Hennessey in two different colors, adding:

It’s probably hopeless, but I want to encourage reporters to focus on our substance rather than our process.

Of course, this man who so values substance over process is the same person who voted against giving the FCIC more time to compile its report, on the grounds that doing so would violate “section 5(h)(1) of Public Law 111-21”.

What’s more, it’s hard to focus on any substance here when the primer is essentially 5,400 words of nothing much at all. There was a housing bubble. The US government was involved. So were the banks. There was a run on the banks. Which hurt the economy. That’s basically it. As advertised, the terms “Wall Street”, “shadow banking”, “interconnection”, and “deregulation” are nowhere to be found.

For this anodyne material, bereft of any insight, we’re paying something over $1,000 a word?

I did ask the FCIC today whether there’s any chance of them putting all their source material online; I haven’t heard back, but at this point it seems the only way to get any value at all out of the $6 million we’ve spent on this panel. A book will be published; it will be rubbished by Republicans; it will have no lasting impact. But give us that Goldman Sachs data dump, and we’ll discover so much more. Maybe not a financial-crisis smoking gun, but an unprecedented degree of access into the real inner workings of Wall Street. Now that would be valuable.

Back in November, Michael Perino said he wasn’t hopeful on this front:

Along with its report, the panel could release all the documents and interviews it has collected. The amount of material is staggering —800 witness interviews and millions of pages of documents. Making these documents available will allow independent analysts (in essence, an army of wiki-investigators) to draw their own conclusions from the data. It’s just what Angelides said he wanted the FCIC to do — lay out the facts for the American public and allow them to draw their own conclusions.

The prospects for immediate release of this material, however, seem slim.

Today, perhaps Phil Angelides has changed his mind a little. If he can’t release a definitive and bipartisan report, maybe he can go one better and release the actual facts he’s discovered instead.

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Felix Salmon is an Audit contributor. He's also the finance blogger for Reuters; this post can also be found at Tags: