"The total potential federal government support could reach up to $23.7 trillion," says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, in a new report obtained Monday by ABC News on the government's efforts to fix the financial system.
Yes, $23.7 trillion.
"The potential financial commitment the American taxpayers could be responsible for is of a size and scope that isn't even imaginable," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "If you spent a million dollars a day going back to the birth of Christ, that wouldn't even come close to just $1 trillion -- $23.7 trillion is a staggering figure."
Granted, Barofsky is not saying that the government will definitely spend that much money. He is saying that potentially, it could.
Barofsky's estimate means that if each federal agency spends the maximum potential amount involved in these 50 different initiatives -- if the Federal Reserve ends up spending $6.8 trillion on its programs. If the Treasury Department spends $4.4 trillion, if the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation spends $2.3 trillion, and so on -- then the numbers add up to a total of $23.7 trillion.
That figure, Barofsky notes, is designed to "suggest the scale and scope of these efforts and not to provide a firm financial statement." It is not a figure that has been evaluated to give an estimate of likely net costs to the American taxpayer. "The actual potential for losses," he says, "is likely to be lower."
But in his new quarterly report to Congress that will be released Tuesday, the watchdog warns that hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars could be lost if the government does not make certain changes to these programs. The Treasury Department, he cautions, needs to increase the transparency of the $700 billion TARP program, which he says has grown to an unprecedented scope and scale.
"Although Treasury has taken some steps toward improving transparency in TARP programs, it has repeatedly failed to adopt recommendations that SIGTARP believes are essential to providing basic transparency and fulfill Treasury's stated commitment to implement TARP with the highest degree of accountability and transparency possible," Barofsky says in the report.
Barofsky said his office currently has 35 ongoing civil or criminal investigations.
Barofsky notes that there are currently four specific recommendations that the Treasury Department has not adopted. The department, he believes, should require all TARP recipients to report on their use of funds. The department should also report on the values of its TARP portfolio so taxpayers know about the value of their investments; disclose the identity of any TALF borrowers; and disclose tradings, holdings and valuations of assets of the public-private investment funds that will be buying toxic assets from banks.
This public-private investment program is a key source of concern for the watchdog. In the program, a handful of selected funds will purchase toxic assets -- like mortgage-backed securities -- from banks in an effort to cleanse their balance sheets and help them increase lending.