Congress to Raise Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Funding by 22%

If Congress already passed what Democratic leaders champion as robust financial reform, then why does the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) need another $1.8 million to figure out how to fix the problem? Congress is set to grant the Commission this additional funding, representing a 22% increase in its budget, in a vote later tonight. The persistent thorn in the Democratic leadership's side, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-CA), wants to know why the commission needs more money and how it intends to spend this additional funding.

First, there's the question of what purpose the FCIC even serves at this point. Democrats believe that the financial reform bill broadly achieved the objectives needed for a more stable financial system. Republicans aren't so sure, but are mostly concerned with the bill's failure to tackle the government sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Yet, the Treasury has already requested comment on housing policy solutions from experts, while the Congress is planning what's sure to be multiple hearings on the topic starting in the fall. Of course, the regulation bill also commissioned dozens of studies on other topics it might have missed. Does the FCIC really hope to offer any significant insights that we haven't already heard or wouldn't otherwise?

But let's put this criticism aside and say that the FCIC is a worthwhile endeavor. Where is this additional money going? Up to now, the FCIC has demanded a great deal of transparency from Wall Street, but offered little clarity on its own finances. Of its $8 million initial budget, it has disclosed that $1.4 million were spent on salaries through March 2010. What about the rest -- and what does it intend to do with another $1.8 million? Rep. Issa has written a letter with 16 information requests to the FCIC. Here are a few good ones:

  • A list of all FCIC current and former staff members, including detailees and consultants, which provides job titles, job descriptions, and total compensation;
  • A list of all contracts the FCIC has with media consultants, public relations consultants or image consultants which identifies the consultants, the purpose of the contracts and amounts expended and committed to be expended;
  • A list of all contracts the FCIC has with vendors for goods and services which identifies the vendors, the goods or services provided and amounts expended and committed to be expended;
  • A full accounting of all travel expenses for FCIC commissioners and staff, including airfare, lodging and meals;
  • All budgets and draft budgets for the FCIC;

Let's hope Issa gets some answers. At a time when both sides of the aisle are worried about excessive government spending on waste, it's hard to justify providing more funding to a commission whose purpose has become questionable, at best. Asking the FCIC to detail its budget and explain its need for this funding seems like a pretty reasonable request.