Why Geithner’s plan lacked details

WHY GEITHNER’S PLAN LACKED DETAILS…. Last week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner delivered a speech on the next steps in bringing stability to the financial and banking sectors. Listeners soon noticed that Geithner’s plan lacked details, and made pronouncements about elements of the plan that we’d learn about eventually. Investors were not impressed, and the major indexes fell quickly.

As it turns out, there’s an explanation for all of this. Apparently, Geithner decided, fairly late in the process, that the plan he’d been working on wasn’t going to work. So, he scrapped it.

Just days before Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner was scheduled to lay out his much-anticipated plan to deal with the toxic assets imperiling the financial system, he and his team made a sudden about-face.

According to several sources involved in the deliberations, Geithner had come to the conclusion that the strategies he and his team had spent weeks working on were too expensive, too complex and too risky for taxpayers.

They needed an alternative and found it in a previously considered initiative to pair private investments and public loans to try to buy the risky assets and take them off the books of banks. There was one problem: They didn’t have enough time to work out many details or consult with others before the plan was supposed to be unveiled.

Once the Treasury secretary and his team realized they’d need a different approach, they had to decide how to present a plan that was still coming together. As they saw it, the Bush administration had a habit of presenting plans with details they had no intention of sticking to, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Geithner preferred to “disappoint the markets with vagueness than lay out a lot of details they might have to change later.”

There were other problems, too.

Meanwhile, the sources said, Obama’s senior economic advisers were hobbled in crafting the plan by a shortage of personnel. To date, the president has not nominated any assistant secretaries or undersecretaries at the Treasury, and the handful of mid-level staffers who have started work were still finding their offices and getting their building passes and BlackBerrys.

Moreover, the department made a strategic decision to limit input from the financial industry and other outsiders, aiming to prevent leaks and avoid a perception they were designing the plan for the benefit of big banks. But that also meant they were unable to vet their plan with the companies involved or set realistic expectations of what would be announced.

This does help explain a few things.