The U.S. Treasury Department has switched course on its exit from the Troubled Asset Relief program and is now auctioning off the remaining bank shares it owns to hedge funds, private equity, and other private investors — at a loss to taxpayers.

In its quarterly report to Congress released Wednesday, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program expressed concerns that the Treasury Department has stopped its practice of selling back to banks the preferred shares it had received from the institutions during the financial crisis. Using that approach, Treasury often earned a profit for taxpayers.

“Rather than take the same active public role it took for the large banks to promote these policies, Treasury changed course in CPP to act like a passive private investor in small banks,” Special Inspector General Christy L. Romero wrote in the report. “Treasury auctions still leave community banks on the hook for TARP investments, only now owed primarily to large private funds, mostly unknown to the bank, not from the community, some of whom are flipping TARP investments at a profit.”

“Treasury did not make TARP investments so that private investors could profit, but that is exactly what has happened,” Romero wrote.

A Wall Street Journal story on Wednesday says that in the 185 Treasury auctions so far, the government has raised about $3 billion on TARP investments that were originally valued at $3.8 billion, for a loss of $800 million.

“The information could further inflame lawmakers and other TARP critics, who say the U.S. wasted taxpayer money and didn’t demand enough from the banks it rescued,” the WSJ writes.

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