The inner workings of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York rarely come to light. But excerpts from a bank examiner’s secret recordings have made the Fed’s struggles to be a watchdog over Wall Street’s biggest banks more transparent.
“We never get to sit inside these rooms and hear these conversations and really watch as the regulatory process unfolds. I think a lot of the people were surprised at what they heard,” says ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein to Editor-in-Chief Steve Engelberg on this week’s podcast.
In September, ProPublica teamed up with radio program This American Life to tell the story of Carmen Segarra, a Fed examiner who made secret audio recordings while embedded at Goldman Sachs. Bernstein continues to investigate the New York Fed after Segarra’s whistle blowing, which has led to a review by the Federal Reserve Board, Senate hearing on regulatory capture, and a bill introduced by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. to make the Fed’s president subject to Senate confirmation.
After the financial crisis of 2008, the New York Fed actually received more authority from Congress to supervise the big banks under its umbrella, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup, and more, but some of the new specialized examiners sent into these banks like Segarra faced resistance to doing their jobs from their Fed supervisors.
Bernstein describes how an outside consultant attributed much of the Fed’s weak oversight to a “culture of passivity,” deference to big banks, and “fear among the employees of the New York Fed to step out of line and contradict their superiors.” Engelberg points out that Fed accountability is seemingly one of the few bipartisan issues that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on.
Both political parties have called for reform at the Fed, especially after the financial crisis in 2008. “The right seems to be a little more concerned about monetary policy and the left seems to be a little more concerned about supervision,” Bernstein says. “But what I think unites [Republicans and Democrats] is the idea of transparency and the idea that the Fed operates in a very secretive manner.”