It’s no surprise the TARP has turned out to be such a murky endeavor, since even the name of the controversial bailout program has been in doubt from the beginning.

Members of Congress, and both the Obama and Bush administrations, haven’t settled on whether to call it the Troubled Asset Relief Program or the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Even here at WebCPA, we’ve gone back and forth a bit.

Back when the financial bailout bill, also known as the Emergency Economic Stimulus Act, passed last October, the name changed from one paragraph to the next. On page 2 of the 451-page bill, it says, “Title I—Troubled Assets Relief Program,” but three pages later, the bill says, “The term ‘TARP’ means the Troubled Asset Relief Program established under Section 101.” But then on the next page in big bold letters, it goes back to saying, “Troubled Assets Relief Program.”

Before long, there was confusion all over Washington, and not just over where the money all went. In December, under Henry Paulson’s watch, the Treasury called it the Troubled Asset Relief Program when it announced a $2.8 billion investment in 49 banks a couple of days before Christmas (nice gift, Henry). House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., came up with his own name when it came time to use TARP funds to bail out the auto industry, calling it the “Troubled Asset Recovery Program.”

Congress demanded answers on why the program wasn’t leading to a decrease in foreclosures and more lending by the banks that received the funds. After the Treasury provided less-than-reassuring answers, the House passed the TARP Reform and Accountability Act last month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it the Troubled Asset Relief Program in the press release issued by her office. But over at the Treasury Department, when freshly minted Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner committed to increased accountability and transparency, his office called it the Troubled Assets Relief Program, overturning the precedent set by his predecessor.

Don’t count on the media to reach any consensus. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today call TARP the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but The Washington Post refers to it as the Troubled Assets Relief Program, as does the Houston Chronicle. Reuters calls it the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but the Associated Press seems to call it that in some stories and the Troubled Assets Relief Program in others. So much for following the AP stylebook. Maybe once they finish spending the rest of the $700 billion, Congress and the Treasury will be able to come up with a name everyone can agree on, and — more importantly — agree on what the program is supposed to accomplish.

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