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Wall Street Journal Op-ed: The Fed Needs Governors Who Aren’t Wall Street Insiders

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Nov 17, 2014

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Senators Elizabeth Warren And Joe Manchin

We joined the Senate Banking Committee to try to make the banking system work better for American families. That's why we're concerned that the Federal Reserve-our first line of defense against another financial crisis-seems more worried about protecting Wall Street than protecting Main Street. Fortunately, this is one problem the Obama administration can start fixing today by nominating the right people to fill the two vacancies on the Fed's Board of Governors.

The Board of Governors is responsible for supervising the country's biggest banks. It's also responsible for overseeing the regional Federal Reserve banks, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. For decades, the Board of Governors and the New York Fed have been responsible for supervising Wall Street banks, but after the 2008 crisis and the regulatory lapses it revealed, Congress gave the Fed even more oversight authority. According to the new chair of the Board of Governors, Janet Yellen , the Fed's obligation to supervise the big banks is now "just as important" as its better-known obligation to set interest rates and conduct the country's monetary policy.

Two recent reports highlight that the Fed isn't very good at supervising certain banks. In September, Carmen Segarra, a former bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, released secret recordings she had made of meetings at the New York Fed in 2012. The recordings revealed that New York Fed employees had identified concerns with a proposed Goldman Sachs deal with Banco Santander , calling it "legal but shady." The New York Fed didn't attempt to make Goldman address these concerns. The recordings also showed Ms. Segarra's superiors pressuring her to soften her finding that Goldman did not comply with federal regulations on conflicts of interest. While the recordings offered important new insights, they ultimately confirmed the old suspicion that the Fed is too cozy with big banks to provide the kind of tough oversight that's needed.

An October report from the Fed's Office of Inspector General provided additional confirmation that the Fed is failing to oversee the big banks. The report found that the New York Fed had failed to examine J.P. Morgan Chase 's Chief Investment Office-the office that incurred over $6 billion in losses in the infamous 2012 "London Whale" incident-despite a recommendation to do so in 2009 from another Federal Reserve System team. The report concluded that the New York Fed needed to improve its supervision of the biggest, most complex banks.

Lax supervision isn't an abstract or academic problem. The stakes couldn't be higher. Just this summer, the Fed and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. determined that 11 of the country's biggest banks had no credible plan for being resolved in bankruptcy. That means that if any one of these banks makes more wild bets and loses, the taxpayers would have to bail it out to prevent the economy from crashing again. We're all counting on the Fed to monitor the big banks and stop them from taking on too much risk, but evidence is mounting that this faith in the Fed is misplaced.

While there will be a congressional hearing this week to examine what's wrong at the Fed and to consider changes in the law, the administration shouldn't wait for Congress to act. The president is responsible for nominating people to serve on the Fed's seven-member Board of Governors. Currently, two of the seven seats on the board are vacant. The president has the opportunity to move the board in a new direction-and to make that change for the long haul, since governors can end up serving terms of 14 years or more.

The president should use that opportunity to address the Fed's supervisory problem. The five sitting governors have a variety of academic and industry experience, but not one came to the Fed with a meaningful background in overseeing or investigating big banks or any experience distinguishing between the greater risks posed by the biggest banks relative to community banks. By nominating people who have a strong track record in these areas and who have a demonstrated commitment to not backing down when they find problems, the administration can show that it is taking the Fed's supervision problem seriously. Nominating Wall Street insiders for the Board of Governors would send the opposite message.

If regulators had been more willing to protect Main Street over Wall Street before 2008, they might have averted the financial crisis and the Great Recession that hurt millions of American families. So long as the Fed and other regulators are unwilling or unable to dig deeply into dangerous bank practices and hold the banks accountable, our economy-and our country-remains at risk. The administration has a chance to protect the families that are still struggling to recover from the last financial crisis. It should not pass it up.

 

Read the op-ed on the Wall Street Journal website here.

 

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