Fed Open to Reform, Bernanke Tells Congress
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke outlined to Congress a series of policy changes that he said reflect the lessons learned from the financial crisis. In prepared testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, Bernanke said the Fed supports Congressional efforts at financial reform. The testimony came at the Fed chief’s semiannual testimony on monetary policy. “The Federal Reserve strongly supports the Congress's ongoing efforts to achieve comprehensive financial reform,” he said. “In the meantime, to strengthen the Federal Reserve's oversight of banking organizations, we have been conducting an intensive self-examination of our regulatory and supervisory responsibilities and have been actively implementing improvements.” One such change Bernanke supports is publicly naming firms that participated in special lending programs, but added such disclosures should come “after an appropriate delay.” “It is important that the release occur after a lag that is sufficiently long that investors will not view an institution's use of one of the facilities as a possible indication of ongoing financial problems, thereby undermining market confidence in the institution or discouraging use of any future facility that might become necessary to protect the U.S. economy,” Bernanke said. He added a lag time would also allow firms adequate time to inform investors through annual reports and other public documents of their use of Federal Reserve facilities. Some have criticized the Fed for not disclosing the names of financial institutions that borrow through the special programs established during the financial crisis, while the central bank has argued disclosures would make the programs less effective because of the potential negative connotation attached to participation. While noting a number of steps to enhance the Fed’s transparency Bernanke said he would support a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the Fed’s management of all facilities created under emergency authorities. “In particular, we would support legislation authorizing the GAO to audit the operational integrity, collateral policies, use of third-party contractors, accounting, financial reporting, and internal controls of these special credit and liquidity facilities,” Bernanke said. Bernanke’s seemingly conciliatory tone comes as Congress considers a variety of options for financial reform, including changes that would diminish the Fed’s authority. The House passed The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 in December and the Senate is currently considering reform options. In his overview of the state of the economy, Bernanke said the economy expanded at a annual rate of 4% during the second half of 2009, but noted the job market remains weak. And while many large firms have been able to issue corporate bonds or new equity and do not seem to be hampered by a lack of credit, Bernanke said bank lending continues to contract, reflecting both tightened lending standards and weak demand for credit amid uncertain economic prospects. Write to Austin Kilgore.