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Treasury follows through on transparency promise

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  1. Freedom of Information
In an abrupt turnaround from Bush administration policy, the Treasury Department has released details of its contracts with banks that received government…

In an abrupt turnaround from Bush administration policy, the Treasury Department has released details of its contracts with banks that received government money as part of the ongoing financial industry bailout.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also announced plans for increased transparency in future bailout transactions.

In a press release, the Treasury Department said it would now post investment contracts with the financial services industry five to 10 days after the businesses receive government money. It is likely there will still be some redactions for confidential and proprietary information.

"Today, we are taking a step toward increased transparency by committing to place all of our [Troubled Asset Relief Program] investment agreements on the Internet so that taxpayers can see how their money is being spent and the terms these institutions must agree to before we invest taxpayer money," Geithner said in the press release.

By posting the documents, Treasury seems to be taking President Barack Obama’s new transparency promises to heart and turning them from rhetoric into action. 

Among the documents now posted on Treasury’s Web site are contracts with Bank of America, The Goldman Sachs Group, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of New York Mellon, State Street and Merrill Lynch.

Documents related to AIG’s bailout and the automotive financing program are also available.

The documents are to varying degrees redacted, but most of the information they contain appears to have been disclosed.

Patrice McDermott, the director of Openthegovernment.org, has coordinated a loose coalition of groups pushing for more bailout transparency.

“We are very pleased to see the White House taking these important steps on transparency in the bailout,” she said in response to the release. “This massive program is of great concern to the public and their trust in it will depend on the greatest possible openness in the actions of the government and of the recipients of these funds.”

It is unclear yet how the release will affect ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and requests for the documents and similar information.

It will be important for journalists and other watchdogs to scour the thousands of pages released to see what kinds of contracts the government is entering into, and if more information is needed.