Earlier today we noted
that the Treasury Department had hired staff with the specific attributes needed to carry out its original plan for the bailout -- buying banks' bad assets -- only to then decide that it would change its approach by directly injecting capital. That news raised questions as to whether the department has the right people in place for what's an extremely complex and crucial task.
And a report
in today's Wall Street Journal
sheds a bit more light on the hiring issues that have plagued Treasury's response to the crisis. It reveals that the department is struggling to bring on enough people to handle the glut of applications for assistance that are flooding in from troubled financial institutions.
Neel Kashkari, the man running the TARP program, said at a recent at a luncheon before a housing organization that the department's Office of Financial Stability is operating at half-staff, with about 40 full-time employees. Kashkari said he hopes to double that number by the time the Obama administration takes over on January 20th.
(And by the way, granted Kashkari needs to keep the pubic informed on what he's doing, but doesn't he have more pressing matters to attend to right now than attending luncheons?)
adds, not exactly reassuringly:
In the past month, the Treasury has been scrambling to make major policy decisions while at the same time conducting the nuts-and-bolts tasks of finding a permanent staff. Decisions have largely been left up to interim staff members, many from other federal banking regulators, who are temporarily at Treasury but are expected to eventually return to their previous positions.
Part of the manpower problem here may be caused by the impending transition. According to Wayne Abernathy, an executive at the American Bankers Association, many Treasury staffers may be headed for the door in advance of the changeover, making it especially hard to keep the department fully-staffed.
Abernathy also suggests, intriguingly, that it may have been in part because of this very problem that Treasury switched from the asset-buying approach to the capital-injection approach. "I don't think that was a small part of why Treasury in the end abandoned the asset-purchase program," he told the paper. "It's very people-intensive."
But it doesn't appear that the switch has entirely solved the problem. And if, in addition to having too few people, Treasury also has the wrong people, as was suggested by that earlier report we noted, that would hardly help the situation.
This may have more to do with a desperate and extraordinary situation than with any deliberate malevolence or even incompetence, but given the stakes, the Treasury's personnel problems are worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.