July 23, 2011
When the Federal Reserve launched an unprecedented series of interventions in the financial system in 2008, it often moved so quickly that the usual practices for preventing conflicts of interest couldn’t keep up, according to a new report.
An audit of the Fed’s emergency lending programs by the Government Accountability Office, ordered by the financial reform law passed last year and released Thursday, reports generally sound financial management by the central bank as it undertook programs that deployed trillions of dollars to backstop a faltering financial system. But it brings to light difficult issues that arose when the Fed undertook actions that its rules never envisioned.
For instance, William C. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who was a senior official there in 2008, owned stock of American International Group before the Fed bailed out the giant insurance firm. The GAO report did not mention him by name, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who spearheaded the audit, identified Dudley as the unnamed official described in the report.
Lawyers at the New York Fed allowed Dudley to continue owning the shares while working on issues relating to the bailout. They concluded that for him to sell the shares immediately after the central bank bailed out the firm would be more ethically problematic than simply holding onto them and selling at a later date.