More Transparency Urged for U.S. Financial Oversight Units

By | September 14, 2012

The new U.S. financial risk council should publicly share more details about its closed-door meetings on emerging risks to markets, a congressional watchdog report has found.

The Government Accountability Office said the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group made up of the top U.S. regulators, fails to provide insight, even on information that is not market-sensitive.

The GAO’s report raises similar concerns about the Treasury’s Office of Financial Research, another new office created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law to analyze data about market threats.

“Public information on FSOC’s and OFR’s decision making and activities is limited, which makes assessing their progress in carrying out their missions difficult,” the GAO said.

FSOC is chaired by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and includes the Federal Reserve chairman, and the heads of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, among others.

The group meets regularly in both open and closed sessions, but has been criticized for sharing little information about its views on big market events, such as the European debt crisis and the collapse of major brokerage MF Global.

FSOC has also been called out for being secretive in its deliberations on major regulatory responsibilities, including picking a list of “systemic” financial institutions that will then be subjected to much stricter oversight.

In a letter responding to the GAO’s report, Treasury’s Under secretary of Domestic Finance, Mary Miller, said the council and the OFR are “firmly committed to operating in an open and transparent manner.”

She also noted that the council and the OFR are relatively new organizations that still have improvements to make.

A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the letter.

On Thursday, the two key U.S. House Republicans who had requested the GAO study sent a letter to Geithner expressing dissatisfaction with the findings.

“We are concerned that these continued verbal and written commitments from FSOC and OFR are in direct conflict with the findings of the GAO report,” wrote House Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus and House Financial Services oversight subcommittee chairman Randy Neugebauer.

In addition to urging more transparency, the GAO also found that the FSOC and the OFR both need to develop “systematic and comprehensive mechanisms for identifying and monitoring” risks.

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