More transparency needed at export-import bank

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The U.S. Export-Import Bank, which helps finance the exports of American goods and services, should be faster and more transparent when reviewing a proposed transaction’s potential economic impact, the agency’s watchdog said in a new report.

The bank provides direct loans, loan guarantees, and credit insurance to U.S. companies unable to obtain funding from private banks. Economic impact reviews — a lengthy process to determine if a loan would hurt U.S. jobs — were conducted for relatively few products including photovoltaics, titanium, and semiconductors since 2002.

“The small number of transactions requiring a full economic impact review that have been submitted to Ex-Im Bank in recent years suggests that the Bank’s approach to economic impact analysis has discouraged U.S. exporters of capital equipment from applying for Ex-Im Bank support,” the agency’s inspector general said.

Among other things, the Ex-Im Bank should publish on its website the data, analytical methods, and criteria used to review the economic impact of a proposed loan, the watchdog said. And the bank’s final report should be made publicly available after redacting sensitive business information from it. An examination of its economic impact reviews since 2002 found most did not include “sensitive business information that require protection from disclosure,” the inspector general said.

FAST FACT: Boeing Co., the giant maker of jetliners and military aircraft, is a big beneficiary of the subsidies Ex-Im provides to U.S. companies, according to Pew Charitable Trust’s SubsidyScope. In fiscal year 2007, loans for Boeing aircraft accounted for $4.5 billion — or 62 percent — of $7.2 billion in the bank’s long-term guarantees, it said.

Other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and by various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG):

FINANCE

  • IRS should make better use of third-party data it gets from banks, employers, and government agencies to boost tax revenue (OIG).
  • IRS needs to improve its pilot plan using so-called “soft” notices that encourage taxpayers to check their return for errors (OIG).

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • Congress lacks a complete picture of U.S. military exports because of differences in how the State Department and Pentagon track the shipments, which have ranged from about $19 billion to $22 billion annually in recent years (GAO).

MONEY & POLITICS

  • Federal Election Commission campaign spending data showed 8 to 38 percent was spent on media advertising for all House campaigns in 2004, 2006, and 2008. The range for all Senate campaigns was 6 to over 40 percent for 2007 through 2008 (GAO).

ENVIRONMENT

  • Less than half of U.S. airports surveyed say environmental issues somewhat or greatly delayed an expansion project or other major change (GAO).

MISC

  • USDA should recover $12 million paid to two Texas ranchers who were ineligible to participate in a pilot program insuring losses in pasture, rangeland, and forage used to feed livestock (OIG).
  • U.S. Customs has not effectively managed a program allowing importers to conduct their own self-assessments of how they comply with federal trade requirements (OIG).

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