It seems the Export-Import Bank of the United States is once again putting up walls to keep the duly-elected representatives of the American people from getting a look at their inner workings. Ex-Im Chairman Fred Hochberg recently dashed off a letter to U.S. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Patrick McHenry in which he dismissed the committee’s request to interview Ex-Im officials, shying away from what he called “the inherently adversarial nature of transcribed interviews.”
The Ex-Im Chairman also defended the Bank’s practice of making heavy redactions to the documents they have deigned to turn over to the committee. He did, however, offer to provide “additional information if you have questions about particular redactions.” This, apparently, is a man who thinks having committee staff pick out every single blacked-out word or phrase is a good use of their taxpayer-funded time. Or maybe, because he knows how prevalent these redactions are – as Chairman Hensarling put it, “more redactions than answers” – this is simply another attempt to slow-walk any investigation into the Ex-Im Bank’s affairs.
In Chairman Hochberg’s position, it’s hard to blame him. The stakes are high for the Ex-Im Bank at the moment. Their charter expires at the end of this month, and without reauthorization by Congress, the bank will fold. Several Members of Congress, including senior lawmakers like Hensarling and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have already expressed their support for just that. It’s no wonder that Chairman Hochberg might be a little concerned about his job security. But by redacting documents and withholding access to government workers for interviews, what exactly is he trying to hide about the Ex-Im Bank?
Could it be yet more evidence of corruption? It was widely reported earlier this summer that four officials left the Bank under a cloud of fraud allegations, ranging from questionable contracting practices to taking kickbacks from companies hoping to do business with Ex-Im. Hochberg made a particularly uncomfortable and evasive appearance before a Financial Services subcommittee in July to discuss these matters. Also called to testify was Johnny Gutierrez, one of the dismissed Ex-Im staffers, who elected to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Approximately 40 charges of fraud were noted to be under investigation by the Bank’s Inspector General at that time. Perhaps even more cases have been discovered in the intervening weeks and Hochberg hopes to keep them under wraps.
Or, it could be that the bank’s chairman wants to conceal more of Ex-Im’s embarrassing foreign entanglements. They finally stopped making deals with Russia in July, only after the Treasury Department sanctioned two Russian state banks who had previously received $519.6 million in combined financing from Ex-Im. Now, with Vladimir Putin’s tanks rolling around eastern Ukraine, Ex-Im would be especially keen to suppress any additional, unwelcome details of their relations with Russian government-backed financial institutions.
Maybe Hochberg simply wants to keep Congress and the public from discovering any new details that more firmly establish the Ex-Im Bank as a crony-capitalist institution that regularly picks winners and losers – though that’s fairly self-evident as it is. We already know that about 60 percent of the Bank’s financing flows to ten massive corporations like Boeing, Caterpillar and GE. Fine American companies all, but none in need of additional government subsidies – especially not when those subsidies happen to kill American jobs.
When Ex-Im provides taxpayer-backed financing so a foreign airline can buy a Boeing jet, they put our own American airlines – who must pay the sticker price – at a competitive disadvantage. One study estimated that these sweetheart deals for foreign airlines have already cost more than 7,500 jobs in the U.S. airline industry.
That’s exactly the sort of inconvenient connection that Chairman Hochberg doesn’t want the Financial Services Committee to make. He may well be concerned that the more Congress learns about the Ex-Im Bank, the more likely they’ll be to vote against its reauthorization, leaving him out of a job.
It’s time to face the music, Chairman Hochberg. Congress has a right to conduct effective oversight over the executive branch, and even more fundamentally, the people have a right to the truth.