- - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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 ensurinf 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.