It’s been obvious to anyone who bothered paying attention that the Fed is increasingly acting as an extension of the Administration, without the oversight and disclosure to which the Executive Branch is subject. For instance, only the Federal Reserve Board of Governors appears to be obligated to honor to Freedom of Information Act requests (the Board of Governors has a FOIA office). The New York Fed, which is the where the alphabet of new programs is domiciled, argues that it is a private organization and has made only limited. voluntary disclosures.
As Willem Buiter has commented:
I have written at length before about the ever-expanding quasi-fiscal role of the Fed. This began as soon as the Fed began to take private credit risk (default risk) onto its balance sheet by accepting private securities as collateral in repos, at the discount window and at one of the myriad facilities it has created since August 2008. It is possible – I would say likely – that the terms on which the Fed accepted this often illiquid collateral implied even an ex-ante subsidy to the borrower. But the Fed is refusing to provide the necessary information on the valuation of the illiquid collateral, interest rates, fees and other key dimensions of the terms granted those who access its facilities, for outsiders, including Congress, to find out what if any element of subsidy is involved.
Should the borrowing bank default and should the collateral offered also turn out to be impaired, the Fed will suffer an ex-post capital loss on its repos and other collateralised lending operations against private collateral. It does not have an indemnity from the Treasury for such capital losses.
The Fed also created the Maiden Lane I (for Bear Stearns toxic assets), Maiden Lane II (for AIG’s secured loans and Maiden Lane III (for AIG’s credit default swaps) special purpose vehicles in Delaware. The losses made by Maiden lane II and III when the Fed paid off the investors (counterparties) of AIG at par, were, however, not booked on the balance sheets of the two Maidens, but were booked on AIG’s balance sheet, keeping Maiden Lane I and II, and the Fed, clean for the time being. The financial shenanigans used by the Fed (in cahoots with the US Treasury) to limit accountability for these capital losses are quite unacceptable in a democratic society. Clearly, the US authorities are using the financial engineering tricks and legal constructions whose abuse by the private financial sector led to our current predicament, to engage in Congressional- and tax payer accountability avoidance/evasion. To watch the regulators engage in regulatory arbitrage is astonishing.
It’s time we put a stop to this nonsense.
Rep. Alan Grayson has sent the letter below to all Democrats in the House to promote Democratic co-sponsorship for the HR1207 Bill, aka The Federal Reserve Transparency Act. It will enable the GAO to audit the Federal Reserve, and requires that the Federal Reserve report to Congress by the end of 2010.
The actions taken by the Fed on a daily basis have a huge impact on the public at large. Any shortfall on its large commitments will be funded either by “printing”, as in creating inflation, or by having the Treasury reimburse the Fed for its losses. The notion of Fed independence became a sham with Alan Greenspan, when he, in contradiction to the actions of his predecessors, supported both Clinton and Bush Administration initiatives. Under Bernanke, the Fed has worked even more closely with the Treasury. The idea that it is independent is a farce.
We encourage all readers who believe in transparency and accountability join me as well as Dean Baker, Bill Black,Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, James K. Galbraith, Tyler Durden, US PIRG, Public Citizen, Mike Farrell, Digby, Rob Kuttner, Ian Welsh, Bill Greider, Stirling Newberry, ANWF, Les Leopold, Mike Lux and others in supporting Alan Grayson and asking Democratic members of Congress to cosponsor the Federal Reserve Transparency Act. Please sign the petition.
Forwards this broadly, Grayson already has good support for the bill, but given the odds of serious Fed and financial services industry pushback, he needs all the firepower he can get.
Alan Grayson’s letter to colleagues:
Bring Some Accountability to the Federal Reserve
I write to ask you to co-sponsor HR 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, which would give the Government Accountability Office the authority to audit the Federal Reserve and its member components and require a report to Congress by the end of 2010.
The Federal Reserve System operates as the central bank for the United States, managing the economy’s money supply and overseeing the banking system. Until recently, the Fed has not picked winners and losers when distributing money, nor has it brought credit risk onto its balance sheet. It has slowed or stimulated the economy by raising or lowering interest rates. Since March 2008, the Fed has resorted to using its emergency powers to pick winners and losers, and to take massive credit risk onto its books. Since last September, the Fed’s balance sheet has expanded from around $800 billion to over $2 trillion, not including off-balance sheet liabilities it has guaranteed for Citigroup, AIG, and Bank of America, among others. The bank is also ‘monetizing’ the debt of the United States Government by purchasing massive amounts of agency and Treasury bonds. An audit is the first step in bringing this unaccountable system under the control of the public, whose money it prints and disseminates at will.
The Federal Reserve is an odd entity, a public-private chimera that controls the US monetary system and supervises the banking system. The system is governed by a Board of Governors, with twelve regional reserve banks that serve a supporting role. While the Governors are appointed by the President with confirmation by the Senate, the regional Reserve Banks have boards of directors chosen primarily by private banking institutions. Right now, for instance, the CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, serves on the Board of Directors of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, as did Goldman Sachs Director Stephen Friedman.
This creates striking conflicts of interest and unseemly appearances in the management of what is ultimately the public’s money.
JP Morgan’s CEO was a board member of the New York Fed even as he negotiated on behalf of JP Morgan with the New York Fed for a $29 billion bridge loan to allow his company to take over Bear Stearns.
New York Fed and Goldman Sachs board member Stephen Friedman purchased 37,300 shares of Goldman Sachs stock in December at the same time as Goldman received permission to convert to a bank holding company regulated by the Federal Reserve. Friedman at the time was also overseeing the selection of a New York Federal Reserve President to replace Tim Geithner, and the New York Fed ended up hiring another alumni from Goldman Sachs.
According to the bank’s website, the two “class B” directorships of the New York Fed that are supposed to represent the public are vacant.
Enron’s Jeff Skilling was on the board of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.
Criticism of banker influence and control of our monetary system is not new. However, the urgency of the financial crisis and the actions of the Fed picking investment bank winners and losers have changed the nature of the criticism. The Senate just passed a non-binding resolution requiring more transparency at the Federal Reserve in its Budget Resolution.
Still, neither the GAO nor the Federal Reserve Inspector General has audited the books of the Federal Reserve or its regional banks. The Federal Reserve has refused multiple inquiries from both the House and the Senate to disclose who is receiving trillions of dollars from the central banking system. The Federal Reserve has redacted the central terms of the no-bid contracts it has issued to Wall Street firms like Blackrock and PIMCO, without disclosure required of the Treasury, and is participating in new and exotic programs like the trillion-dollar TALF to leverage the Treasury’s balance sheet. With discussions of allocating even more power to the Federal Reserve as the ‘systemic risk regulator’ of the credit markets, more oversight over the central bank’s operations is clearly necessary.
The net effect of recent actions has been to isolate financial policy-making entirely from democratic input, and allow the Treasury Department to leverage the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet to spend money it cannot get appropriated from Congress. The public does not know where trillions of its dollars are going, and so has no meaningful control over the currency or this unappropriated “budget”. The extraordinary size of these lending facilities combined, the extreme secrecy, and the private influence is a dangerous seizure of Congress’s constitutional prerogative to appropriate public monies and control the currency.
An audit of the Federal Reserve may not be sufficient to control this sprawling system or bring it back into balance, but it is a start. The public has a right to know to whom the US government is lending trillions of dollars. Dancing around this issue with technocratic terms like ‘increasing liquidity’ and ‘private financial intermediation’ is preventing a full and long overdue public debate on the role of the Federal Reserve and the influence of private banking interests in the governing of our economy.
I encourage my colleagues to support H.R. 1207, so that we can bring some transparency to our banking system and allow the public to have a real debate over the fundamental direction of our nation’s political economy.
Please sign the petition. Thanks!