Not So Fast: Govt. Tells AIG Reduce Bonuses by $200M

Meanwhile, watchdog finds government oversight fell well short.

ByABC News
October 13, 2009, 3:51 PM

Oct. 13, 2009 — -- The Obama administration has asked bailed-out insurance company American International Group to reduce almost $200 million in future retention payments after their bonus fiasco last spring, a government watchdog reported today.

The administration's request was revealed in a new audit from Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. In his report, Barofsky criticizes the Treasury Department for failing to understand the extent of AIG's compensation agreements before bailing out the company with taxpayer money last fall.

AIG, a company that is 80 percent owned by American taxpayers, then dished out $168 million in retention bonuses last March.

While the inspector general report found that in the fall of 2008, Treasury officials discussed with AIG what compensation restrictions the company would face after its initial $40 billion government loan, the department "essentially relied upon" information from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and there was "little indication" that FRBNY knowledge about AIG's compensation plans, particularly at the Financial Products unit, was being passed to Treasury, the report concludes.

The AIG bonus flap triggered a political firestorm last spring when the insurance giant made $168 million in retention payments.

"Treasury invested $40 billion of taxpayer funds in AIG, designed AIG's contractual executive compensation restrictions, and helped manage the government's majority stake in AIG for several months, all without having any detailed information about the scope of AIG's very substantial, and very controversial, executive compensation obligations," Barofsky said in his report.

"Treasury's failure to discover the scope and scale of AIG's executive compensation obligations, in particular at AIGFP, potentially resulted in a missed opportunity to avoid the explosively controversial events and created considerable public and congressional concern over the retention payments."

It was not until Feb. 28, only days before the insurance giant was due to make the payments – when Treasury officials ultimately became aware of the details of the bonuses. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, despite running the New York Fed until taking over as Treasury chief in February, has said he did not have any personal knowledge about the bonuses until March 10, just three days before the payments were set to be made.

Upon learning about the details of AIG's bonuses, Geithner said he called the company's then-CEO Ed Liddy to try to halt the payments, but both parties agreed that there were no legal grounds to do so, a correct determination according to Barofsky. However, the watchdog said that Geithner's "lack of knowledge until the eve of the payment of the bonuses represents a failing at both FRBNY and Treasury to identify adequately the significance" of the bonus issue.