The debate over Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign to “Audit the Fed” is marred by falsehoods, misunderstandings and politically motivated name-calling.
The Federal Reserve, though it has enormous power over the U.S. economy, is designed to be independent of Congress and the president. Perhaps because of that, it has been the target of suspicion and conspiracy theories since it was founded in 1913.
As I explain in a Q&A below, the Fed’s financial statements are audited. Current law blocks the congressional Government Accountability Office from evaluating the Fed’s monetary policy decisions. Mr. Paul’s bill would end that prohibition. The Fed thinks this is a horrible idea; so do many independent economists.
But the “Audit the Fed” campaign, if not the specific proposal, highlights the shortcomings of current congressional oversight of the Fed—and ought to prompt a search for ways to remedy that.
Q: Is the Fed audited?
A: Yes. The Fed’s financial statements are audited by Deloitte & Touche and have been subject to oversight by outside accountants for many years. The Dodd-Frank law requires the Fed to post a link on its website to these audits. The Fed has done so.
Q: What would the Audit the Fed bill change?
A: First a little history: Between 1933 and 1978, the General Accounting Office (since renamed the Government Accountability Office) was not allowed to audit the Fed at all, except for the Fed’s role in handling the U.S. Treasury’s cash. In 1978, Congress gave the GAO authority to audit the Fed’s regulatory duties and role in the payments system, but prohibited it from reviewing “deliberations, decisions or actions on monetary policy matters.” The Congressional Research Service has posted a good, short history of all this.