It is wrong to release another $350 billion – the second half of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, funds – without first securing some accounting or accountability for the first. It’s not that much to ask. In fact, it’s the bare minimum.

Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe have raised smart questions about the opaqueness of TARP, which prevents gauging the effectiveness of a massive government spending program.

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts has introduced legislation to attach strings to TARP, as it were, but we’re unsure whether this is just a half-measure. Making banks jump higher for more money doesn’t assuage our concern about what’s already gone.

While the Senate voted 52-42 on Thursday to release the funds, it should require a full accounting. Instead of new rules, the harder line might be appropriate: Banks should not receive more money until the first $350 billion is justified.

We know where the funds haven’t gone – to help homeowners facing foreclosure – so where has the money gone? Has it loosened credit markets, as promised? Or did infinitesimal interest rates do that on their own? It is imperative to know which causes led to which effects.

This is crucial for restoring confidence in the financial markets, first off. Drawing clear lines from the government support to market stability could validate TARP as policy, and justify its continuance.

While TARP needed to be done, it needs even more to be done right.

Understanding what TARP has done, as well, is important for the future. Government action during this crisis has been rooted in the past, specifically the Great Depression, which has sparked renewed attention to the policymaking of that era.

With great detail, the development and implementation of social welfare, economic and employment laws under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, successful and unsuccessful, have been scrutinized for application to modern troubles.

This is logical – we know where to go, from where we’ve been.

The mysteries of TARP would limit this knowledge. While it’s hoped another fiscal crisis of this magnitude never visits again, it is not guaranteed. Next generations of bankers, lawmakers, presidents and taxpayers must understand the unprecedented actions of this time in full.

“The government gave money to banks, with so-and-so resulting,” is not enough.

As it stands, the public and Congress don’t know whether the first half of TARP lined pockets, packed parachutes, did nothing or saved the world.

The truth must lie somewhere among them. Before more is spent, it should be found.


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