Obama campaign, Treasury rely on incomplete GAO report to defend Delphi decision

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conceded to The Daily Caller on Wednesday that its December 2011 report covering Delphi employee pension plans affected by the General Motors bailout relied on incomplete information.

A GAO director said her agency did not have emails TheDC published on Tuesday showing that the U.S. Treasury Department, led by Timothy Geithner, was the driving force behind the termination of 20,000 salaried Delphi retirees’ pensions in 2009.

“In short, we do not believe we reviewed those emails, they aren’t in our records,” Managing Director of Education, Workforce and Income Security Issues Barbara Bovbjerg said in an email.

“They are not among the ‘PBGC internal records’ we reviewed — those refer to the termination memos, plan administrative records, pension information profiles, emails, and other documents we received from PBGC.”

The PBGC is the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, an independent agency tasked with insuring the availability of benefits promised under private pension plans. (RELATED: Emails: Geithner, Treasury drove cutoff of non-union Delphi workers’ pensions)

Despite the existence of the new email evidence, though, Bovbjerg said she doesn’t see the emails “contradicting our finding.”

In the report, the GAO wrote that it found “the steps taken to terminate the plans and reduce some benefits according to statutory limits are consistent with PBGC’s usual actions when terminating large plans.”

During a July 10 House oversight committee hearing, GAO director Nikki Clowers also said she had not seen evidence to suggest otherwise.

But Clowers did admit GAO’s report was not comprehensive, and was never meant to be. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (SIGTARP), an oversight and investigations official appointed by President Barack Obama, launched a parallel investigation. Its report is presumed to be the final authority on the matter.

“I would note, however, that in conducting our work we coordinated with SIGTARP,” Clowers said during questioning. “Our report focused on a broad range of things including the PBGC issues, the events leading to the termination and Treasury’s role, but we did not conduct an investigation as SIGTARP is doing and we did not interview the former officials here today.”

SIGTARP Christy Romero, who was appointed by Obama in early 2012, echoed that statement in her own congressional testimony.

“GAO confirmed with SIGTARP that they did not interview the Auto Team on the issues being reviewed by SIGTARP, but rather made the statement about the ‘advisory role’ based on statements made in the bankruptcy depositions and by current Treasury employees who were not involved in GM’s decision on Delphi pensions,” Romero said in testimony prepared for that July 10 hearing. “GAO’s report footnotes that SIGTARP is reviewing the role of the Treasury and the Auto Task Force.”

Despite GAO’s affirmation that its report is incomplete, however, the Treasury Department has cited it in the administration’s defense. Obama’s re-election campaign has also claimed the GAO report exonerates the administration, likely because of the brewing scandal’s potential to be become politically disastrous for the president in November.

Obama for America Ohio spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw told the Dayton Daily News Tuesday that “the GAO, an independent, nonpartisan investigative agency has determined that these decisions were not made by the Administration and … to politicize the situation at Delphi is insensitive.”

The same newspaper report noted that Treasury spokesman Matt Anderson cited the same GAO report in defense of his agency.

Anderson told TheDC that the Treasury Department does “not believe the emails are contrary to GAO’s findings.” He has not answered follow-up questions, and has failed to provide TheDC with anything other than the GAO report to back up the administration’s claim that the termination of non-union pensions at Delphi was not a political move driven by the Treasury Department.

The Obama re-election campaign has not responded to requests for comment from The Daily Caller.

On a Republican National Committee conference call with reporters Wednesday, Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, the congressman leading investigations into the Delphi pension scandal, said he believes the Obama administration’s reliance on an incomplete GAO report is a sign of desperation, and perhaps of a coverup.

“It’s always funny when you deal with a response like this,” Turner said in response to a question from The Daily Caller. “When his administration turns to a document that clearly is insufficient, you know they’re hiding something. The GAO report is basically a good faith effort to look at the public information. They didn’t go into any emails. They didn’t interview any people.”

“The fact that the administration is relying on something they know is deficient, I think, certainly, begs the question as to what are they hiding?” Turner added.

Turner added that he agrees the internal PBGC emails published Tuesday by TheDC show the administration made the Delphi pension decision, not the PBGC itself.

“What we’ve found interesting is that they keep saying, ‘GM made the decision, PBGC made the decision, the Auto Task Force made the decision,'” Turner said of the Obama administration. “Well, they were each of those things. The emails show that they were acting as GM, that they were acting as PBGC, they were acting as the Auto Task Force. The administration usurped the authority of each of those bodies.”

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