Why Are We Wasting Money on the Financial Crisis Commission?

As the government works to finalize by July its financial regulation bill meant to prevent another crisis, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission is still trying to figure out what went wrong. Despite the fact that President Obama will sign a bill this summer, the FCIC won't even issue its report until December. What's the point?

This question is posed by an editorial in today's Washington Examiner. It provides FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides' response:

Angelides and the FCIC's vice chairman, former Republican Rep. Bill Thomas of California, told The Washington Examiner the panel won't be making policy recommendations. "This report is to explain to the American people what really caused the meltdown," said Angelides. But if it won't be making policy recommendations and Congress has already passed legislative fixes to avoid another meltdown, why are we spending $8 million on this commission? The only explanation Angelides could offer was that his panel's report might be of use to those who enforce the new law.

So $8 million of taxpayer money is being spent just in case someone might want to read it? Why not use that money to save some teacher jobs, or prevent a few dozen foreclosures? At least those options would provide tangible results.

In fact, a theoretical report that the government isn't actually using to form its policy is a complete waste. If you want to learn what happened during the financial crisis, just pick up one of the many books written about it, such as former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's "On The Brink," Andrew Ross Sorkin's, "Too Big to Fail," or Michael Lewis' "The Big Short," to name a few. Or read some of what are sure to be thousands of economics and finance journal articles written by academics for the next 50 years about the crisis. All of that great stuff comes without costing taxpayers a cent.

What's stranger is that the FCIC, which is a body that seeks transparency about Wall Street, refuses to disclose its own finances. According to the editorial, Angelides refuses to reveal how he's spending the $8 million budget. He won't release a list of staff members, salaries, or job descriptions. We requested this information as well, so should they decide to provide it, we'll be sure to keep you posted. Of course, no matter how the FCIC is using the money, it's pretty hard to imagine that it could be well spent, considering how little impact its report will ultimately have.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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