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The Financial Crisis Commission Should WikiLeak Itself

Keith Hennessey has posted on his website a copy of the 9-page Financial Crisis Primer that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission sent to the president and congress, to meet the statutorily mandated December 15 deadline.

Hennessey, one of the four Republicans on the commission, voted against the commission’s decision to extend the deadline from December 15 to January of 2011. His grounds for doing so were valid and important: the law requires the report to be submitted on December 15 and it doesn’t authorize the commission to extend its own deadline. By voting to extend, the commission was deciding to willfully violate the law.

This is not really that big a deal. Nothing will be lost if the commission’s report is delayed by a month. But I think a member of congress or the president probably has grounds to sue the commission to compel compliance with the earlier deadline—although I don’t expect that any such lawsuit will be filed. The rest of us probably lack standing to file such a lawsuit.

As I understand it, the commission has had trouble getting the actual report written. It has undertaken efforts to ensure that the report will not be dismissed by the political right or left as a partisan hack job. At one point, it was actively—if quietly—looking for free-market financial writers to help write the report.

Blogger Felix Salmon is disappointed with the Primer, which he describes as “anodyne material, bereft of any insight.” But he is not too hopeful that the final report will be any better.

“A book will be published; it will be rubbished by Republicans; it will have no lasting impact,” Felix Salmon writes.

To really get value out of the $6 million we’ve spent on the commission, Salmon argues, the commission should put all of its source material online. This is exactly right. In fact, I first called for crowd-sourcing the FCIC’s data back in June, after the FCIC complained that Goldman Sachs had responded to information requests by dumping a truckload of un-indexed data at its doorstep.

So what should the FCIC do? It should unleash the resources of the American people on the Goldman document dump by putting every single document on its website. Instead of a small staff getting buried by the document dump, the FCIC will have an army of concerned citizens pouring through the documents. Bloggers will compete with each other to uncover the juiciest facts disclosed, while reporters comb through looking for headline-worthy material.

In other words, the FCIC should make like WikiLeaks and open its vaults up to the power of the Internet.

I haven’t asked the FCIC about this lately. Felix says he has some inquiries. Back in June, however, Maria Bartiromo actually asked the commission’s chairman Phil Angelides about this proposal. He sounded open to the idea.

"It's a very interesting idea, and I'll leave it there. It certainly merits consideration," Angelides said.

Salmon thinks that the problems the commission has had creating a bipartisan report may encourage opening up the underlying data.

“If he [ANGELIDES] can’t release a definitive and bipartisan report, maybe he can go one better and release the actual facts he’s discovered instead,” Salmon writes.

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