By Rep. Michael R. Turner
President Obama famously pledged that his “administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government” and that he would “establish a system of transparency.” For Delphi Corp. salaried retirees, the administration has failed to live up to its commitment and, even more troubling, has actively sought to evade providing answers both retirees and Congress have been seeking for years.
As General Motors went through one of the most expedited bankruptcies in American history, decisions were made as to how the many companies in GM’s supply chain were to be treated. Among those companies was Delphi. Ultimately, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) terminated Delphi’s pension plans and agreed to take on the cost of paying the reduced benefits to the company’s retirees. Those benefits were not reduced equally or uniformly among the retirees. United Auto Workers (UAW) retirees received agreements ensuring that they received the full pension and medical benefits of their plan. However, the approximately 20,000 Delphi salaried retirees, who were not union members, saw reductions in their benefits of up to 70 percent. Those salaried retirees saw the retirement that they had earned over the course of their careers suddenly slashed in a few months.
The argument has never been that of union versus nonunion employees. In fact, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and the salaried retirees have been in agreement that the UAW workers deserved their pensions. After all, they earned them. But so did the salaried retirees. The key issue is how and why this decision using tax dollars was made and who picked winners and losers among American workers. Throughout the process, the Treasury Department, the PBGC and the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry have stonewalled various groups seeking to find out what transpired.
Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on TARP, financial services and bailouts of public and private programs held a hearing titled “The administration’s auto bailouts and the Delphi pension decisions: Who picked the winners and losers?” The hearing came in response to a May 9 letter from the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP). For several months, SIGTARP has been conducting a congressionally requested audit of Treasury’s role in the Delphi pension issue and whether the administration or the auto task force pressured GM to provide additional funding for the plan.
SIGTARP stated in the letter that it “cannot complete its work because three former Auto Task Force members … have refused to meet with SIGTARP and provide information and answers to questions concerning the role they played with respect to this decision.” Those individuals earned taxpayer-funded salaries for taxpayer-funded actions but denied taxpayers the transparency and answers they deserve.
Furthermore, SIGTARP stated that it “believes that the Auto Task Force played a role in the pension decision and [their] failure to speak … poses a significant obstacle to SIGTARP’s ability to complete its audit.” Because SIGTARP does not possess testimonial subpoena authority, it could not compel those persons who left government service to provide answers.
The excuses used by Ron Bloom, Matthew Feldman and Harry Wilson in refusing to meet with SIGTARP ranged from “personal issues” to the fact that they had left government service and “should no longer involve [themselves] in the matter.” So, because they no longer are paid by taxpayers, their response is that they are not accountable for their actions. Congress, unlike SIGTARP, can compel testimony. The former task force members appeared during that hearing and stated only when on the record and under oath that they finally would meet with SIGTARP within the next two months.
After implementation of the bailout, the government plunged headlong into buying toxic assets and preferred stock in financial institutions and became the majority shareholder of one of the country’s largest automakers. The American public deserves access to information relating to the government’s decision-making process, yet the administration has shielded itself from the scrutiny that may have prevented those pensions from being unjustly terminated.
This much we do know: The president appointed the director of the PBGC and three of his Cabinet secretaries to sit on the PBGC board of directors. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner served three presidentially directed and controlled roles in the auto bailout — secretary of the Treasury, chairman of the auto task force, and board member of the PBGC. All the while, it appears Mr. Geithner sat back and oversaw a backroom deal to the detriment of salaried Delphi retirees across the country.
Unbelievably, it is clear that we have an administration unwilling to admit or be accountable for this decision and the severe effects it has had across our nation. Hardworking citizens across the United States are without the retirement benefits they rightfully earned, and many more are without jobs. Lives have been ruined in the process. There is a reason those three persons until now refused to account for their actions. It is time for this administration to honor its pledge of transparency.
Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican, is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.