Treasury Short On Bailout Answers

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As President-elect Obama continues urging Congress to spend hundreds of billions to put Americans back to work, he's also and promising strict oversight of where the money goes. Just months ago, the government spent hundreds of billions to rescue financial institutions. What's become of that money? That's what a congressional oversight committee's trying to find out.

Even with the backing of Congress, the oversight panel didn't have any better luck than CBS News did getting answers from the Treasury Department about how banks are spending $187 billion dollars in taxpayer funds, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

"I was very surprised at the number of questions that we put to Treasury for which we received no response at all," said Elizabeth Warren of the Congressional Oversight Panel. She said she was "deeply surprised."

Elizabeth Warren's Congressional Oversight Panel asked the Treasury Department 45 questions. But says Treasury "did not provide complete answers" and "failed to address a number of questions at all."

Therefore, more than three months into the bailout, the panel "still does not know what the banks are doing with taxpayer money."

Called TARP for short (for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the largest part of what was known as the $700 billion bailout package), was supposed to buy failed mortgage assets morphed into an entirely different approach - invest the funds in big banks.

The oversight panel said their initial concerns have grown due to Treasury's "shifting explanations."

Today a Treasury spokesman said they are trying to track the funds but that there will be no shift in strategy to make banks more accountable.

"It's a really tough, um, challenge, because of course you know there are many factors at work," said Assistant Treasury Secretary Phillip Swagel.

Warren said: "We will get this information and, let's be clear, Treasury may not tell us everything, but we're making our own independent investigations. They're not the only ones who understand how the pieces of this work."

The bailout was supposed to bolster faith in the economy, but the oversight panel says for the treasury to have given the funds without more transparency erodes the very confidence they seek to restore.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.