“Reauthorize with reforms.” That’s the new mantra from supporters of renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank.
But a review of reforms that Congress ordered the bank to make during the last reauthorization fight shows the agency has done little to remedy issues identified by the lawmakers in 2012.
Some House Republicans view reforms as the main path to extending the Export-Import Bank’s life. Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., drafted legislation with changes to the Ex-Im Bank that he says would be required parts of the 80-year-old agency’s reauthorization.
But Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has been clear about his intention to allow the bank’s charter to expire Sept. 30.
Hensarling and other critics say the agency’s failure to address reforms mandated in 2012 as part of the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act demonstrate the bank isn’t likely to adhere to any conditions specified by Congress this year.
>>> Commentary: Why We Must Get Rid of Export-Import Bank
Concerns about bank operations prompted Congress to impose new requirements on the bank to increase transparency and accountability. Lawmakers also made step increases in the bank’s annual lending limit — from $120 billion in 2012 up to $140 billion in 2014 — contingent on Ex-Im’s submitting a variety of reports to lawmakers.
A review of those additional requirements, though, shows they failed to remedy mismanagement and dysfunction that critics say put taxpayers’ money at risk.
Diane Katz, a research fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, said officials within the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office continue to express concerns about bank operations. Recent reports of fraud and other misconduct further undermined the agency’s reputation.
“Taxpayers certainly are justified in worrying about Ex-Im,” Katz said.
Two years ago, Congress required the bank to draft a business plan. The bank submitted a plan, but both GAO and the agency’s inspector general identified weaknesses.
In written testimony to the Financial Services Committee, Ex-Im’s inspector general, Luis Gratacós, said:
In order to manage its growing portfolio and to better meet export credit needs of the American exporters, it is our opinion that Ex-Im Bank and Congress can take steps to address some operational weaknesses and challenges facing the bank.
Gratacós previously recommended the bank hire a chief risk officer. It did, but critics note that half the employee’s time is devoted to other responsibilities such as supervising legal and administrative functions.
Its charter requires the bank to meet a small business participation goal of 20 percent of total funding for each designated year. Supporters cite this provision and their contention that 90 percent of bank transactions benefit “small businesses” as key reasons to extend the charter.
Over the the past three years, however, Ex-Im actually has fallen short of the mandated quota. Financing for small business fell from $6 billion in 2011 and 2012 to $5.2 billion in 2013 — less than 20 percent of the total.
Gratacós also told Congress the agency did not meet a renewable energy mandate of 10 percent of annual authorizations. The inspector general attributed the shortfall to “the fact that the total renewable energy export market is not yet large enough to achieve this level relative to the total size of Ex-Im’s bank portfolio.”
During a Financial Services Committee hearing last year, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., pointed to other issues identified by the GAO and inspector general.
Mulvaney said the bank failed to report the default rates of three sub-portfolios–small business, sub-Saharan Africa, and renewable energy–as required under the 2012 reauthorization. He said:
It strikes me that if I had read these types of reports about private banks, the banks would probably be shut down by the regulators.
Ex-Im’s chairman, Fred Hochberg, told Mulvaney that the bank was working with the GAO and inspector general to satisfy the requirement.
Senate Democrats appear intent on preserving the bank.
In a conference call with reporters last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said a bill extending the bank’s life likely will be introduced in the Senate next month. The legislation, he said, would pass the Senate with bipartisan support.
>>> Read More: Cronyism Threatens American Jobs