The Fox DOES Audit His Henhouse
The Claim That The Fed Has Not Been
Audited Is False (almost)
A Brief History of Federal Reserve Audits
Since its inception in 1913, the Federal Reserve System has been subjected to a variety of financial and performance audits by Congress, the executive branch, and private accounting firms, although responsibility for this task has shifted from time to time. From 1913 to 1921 the Board of Governors (the Board), then known as the Federal Reserve Board which sets monetary policy and regulates the activities of the Federal Reserve Banks, was audited annually by the U.S. Treasury Department. In 1921 Congress created the Government Accounting Office (GAO) and assigned it to audit the Board until 1933. In the Banking Act of 1933, Congress voted to specifically remove the Board from the GAO's jurisdiction. From 1933 to 1952 audit teams from the twelve Federal Reserve Banks performed the annual examination of the BOG's books. From 1952 to 1978, the Board, under authorization from Congress, decided to employ nationally recognize accounting firms to conduct the audits of itself to insure independent oversight. This provided an external evaluation of the adequacy and effectiveness of the examination procedures.
Scope of GAO Audits.
In 1978 Congress passed the Federal Banking Agency Act (31 USCA 714). This law placed the Federal Reserve System back under the auditing authority of the GAO. The Act significantly increased the access of the GAO to the Federal Reserve Banks, the Board, and the Federal Open Market Committee (the FOMC). Since then, the GAO has conducted over 100 financial audits and performance audits of the three Federal Reserve bodies.
Some of the more important GAO performance audits of the Fed have been in the areas of bank supervision, payment systems activities, and government securities activities. In the first area, the GAO examined how well the Fed was enforcing its regulatory powers over its member banks. In 1992 it drew attention to the Fed's sluggish compliance with regulatory reforms mandated by the Foreign Bank Supervision Act of 1991. In examining the Fed's payment system activities, the GAO made the Fed aware of how its pricing policies for such services as check-clearing affected private suppliers of check-clearing services, and also suggested ways to speed up the process of check collections. Security markets for government debt is a crucial market, and GAO performance audits of the Fed have lead to more openness in the primary dealer system, particularly concerning the disclosure of price information. The GAO is also involved in several ongoing performance audits of the Fed such as analysis of risks and benefits of interstate banking, regulation of derivatives, and the budget of the Federal Reserve system.
Audits By Private Accounting Firms
Financial audits of the Fed are also conducted regularly. Each Reserve Bank is audited every year by independent General Auditors who report directly to the Board of Governors. These examinations involve financial statement audits and reviews on the effectiveness of financial controls. Each Reserve Bank also has its own internal audit mechanisms. The Board contracts each year with an outside accounting firm to evaluate the audit program's effectiveness. Price Waterhouse conducted an audit of the Board's 1994, 1995, and 1996 financial statements and filed this report in the Board's Annual Report, 1996:
"We have audited the accompanying balance sheets of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the Board) as of December 31, 1995 and 1994, and the related statements of revenues and expenses for the years then ended. These financial statements are the responsibility of the Board's management. Our responsibility is to express an opinion on these financial statements based on our audits."
"We conducted our audits in accordance with generally accepted accounting standards and Government Accounting Standards issued by the Comptroller General of the United States. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audits to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement. An audit includes examining, on a test basis, evidence supporting the amounts and disclosures in the financial statements. An audit also includes assessing the accounting principles used and significant estmates made by management, as well as evaluating the overall financial statement presentation. We believe that our audits provide a reasonable basis for our opinion."
"In our opinion the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Board as of December 31, 1995 and 1994, and the results of its operations and its cash flows for the years then ended in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles."
"As discussed in Notes 1 and 3 to the financial statements, the Board implemented Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 112, Employers' Accounting for Postemployment Benefits, effective January 1, 1994."
"In accordance with Government Accounting Standards, we have also issued a report dated March 25, 1996 on our consideration of the Board's internal control structure and a report dated March 25, 1996 on its compliance with laws and regulations."
The Board has contracted with Coopers & Lybrand to conduct annual financial audits of the Board and the individual Federal Reserve Banks for the coming years.
Exemptions to the Scope of GAO Audits.
However, the GAO does NOT have complete access to all aspects of the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Banking Agency Audit Act of 1978 stipulates the following areas are to be excluded from GAO inspections:
(1) transactions for or with a foreign central bank, government of a foreign country, or nonprivate international financing organization;
(2) deliberations, decisions, or actions on monetary policy matters, including discount window operations, reserves of member banks, securities credit, interest on deposits, open market operations;
(3) transactions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee; or
(4) a part of a discussion or communication among or between members of the Board of Governors and officers and employees of the Federal Reserve System related to items.
In 1993 Wayne D. Angell, then a member of the Board of Governors, submitted testimony before a House subcommittee on the reasons for the restrictions on GAO access. He commented:
"By excluding these areas, the Act attempts to balance the need for public accountability of the Federal Reserve through GAO audits against the need to insulate the central bank's monetary policy functions from short-term political pressures and to ensure that foreign central banks and governmental entities can transact business in the U.S. financial markets through the Federal Reserve on a confidential basis (Reference 2)."
In reference to a bill that would lift the constraints placed on the GAO's audit authority over the Federal Reserve, Angell stated:
"The benefits, if any, of broadening the GAO's authority into the areas of monetary policy and transactions with foreign official entities would be small. With regard to purely financial audits, the Federal Reserve Act already requires that the Board conduct an annual financial examination of each Reserve Bank...The process of conducting financial audits is reviewed by a public accounting firm to confirm that the methods and techniques being employed are effective and that the program follows generally accepted auditing standards...Further, a private accounting firm audits the Board's balance sheet...Finally, and more broadly, the Congress has, in effect, mandated its own review of monetary policy by requiring semiannual reports to Congress on monetary policy under the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978...In addition, there is a vast and continuously updated body of literature and expert evaluation of U.S. monetary policy. In this environment, the contribution that a GAO audit would make to the active public discussion of the conduct of monetary policy is not likely to outweigh the disadvantages of expanding GAO audit authority in this area."
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