Both sides of the political isle are pressuring the Fed to be more transparent regarding its monetary policy and cease “cozying up” to the banks it oversees. There are several legislative proposals that some prior Presidents of the Fed consider to be a threat to its independence. If any one of them are passed, it would be the first major overhaul of the institution since the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby is concerned with the Fed’s portfolio, because since 2008 the Fed more than quadrupled its balance sheet to $4.5 trillion. It purchased bonds to suppress longer-term interest rates, but Shelby is at a loss to discover as to what the Fed is going to do with them.
Sen. Rand Paul, along with 29 other Republican Senators, the Majority Leader, and one Democrat, is sponsoring a bill requiring the Fed to be subject to “regular audits” of its monetary policy by the General Accounting Office (GAO). Paul reasoned it is “‘unseemly that an organization that we’ve given the power, the monopoly, of making money uses that power then to try to thwart transparency.'”
Representative Bill Huizenga of Michigan, head of the House Financial Services panel’s subcommittee on monetary policy, wants to require the Fed to use a mathematical rule when it changes interest rates. New Jersey Republican Representative Scott Garrett has introduced a bill entitled, the “Federal Reserve Transparency and Accountability Act” that “would require the central bank to perform a cost-benefit analysis of any new banking rule, submit internal audits and performance reviews to Congress and send a top official to testify before lawmakers on financial rule-making.”
There is at least some change to the selection of governors. Current law now requires at least one member of the seven-member Board of Governors to have community banking experience. It brings experience other than the traditional “academic” or “megabank” experience, as the proponent of the original bill, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, described. Individual governors on Fed’s Board of Governors are required to be confirmed by the Senate. The Board of Governors makes important decisions on interest rates and how banks are regulated. But specific expertise in banking is not a requirement for any of the positions. “Of the board’s current five members, three are economists and two are lawyers.” The addition of a governor with community banking experience, however, lends more diversity in the decision-making process.
The New York branch has been the target of Democrats, in particular Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts. She has been critical of the current president, William C. Dudley, of being too chummy with big banks. Warren wants more congressional oversight of the central bank. Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island suggests that selection of the New York Fed president should be confirmed by the Senate and has proposed a bill requiring it. Currently, the bank’s directors select the twelve district bank presidents who are then sent on for approval by the Fed board located in Washington.
A lot of criticism surrounds the amount of power the president of the New York branch has over policy set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The president of the New York bank is the only president that does not have to rotate on the committee. Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher called for the “stripping” of the New York president’s permanent role on the FOMC, because the New York branch wields too much power and influence. The Independent Community Bankers of America, a Washington lobby consisting of 6,500 members, agree.
Both Democrats and Republicans want a more accountable Fed, but there are detractors who believe that legislation would only have the effect of politicizing the central bank. In one poll, 24% of Americans polled believe that politics should stay out of the Fed.