A More Frequent Visitor
Greenspan's White House Trips Increased Sharply in Recent Years
By Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2004; Page E01
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's visits to the White House and meetings with top administration officials increased sharply after President Bush took office in January 2001, according to records released to an academic researcher under the Freedom of Information Act.
As terrorism and war replaced concerns about financial instability as the top-tier threats to the U.S. economy, Greenspan broadened the group of officials with whom he maintains frequent contacts to include national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Greenspan, as a matter of policy, declines to publicly characterize his private consultations with other officials. The Bush officials with whom he met also declined to discuss the substance of the meetings.
But Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith said Tuesday that Greenspan met with administration foreign policy officials to discuss international economic policy. Particularly since the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year, Middle East instability and its potential effects on the world oil supply have been key concerns. Another frequent topic is the interplay of economic and foreign policy issues in many areas.
"The chairman believes a central mission of the Federal Reserve is to contribute in whatever way possible to the stability of the American economy," Smith said. "Although they are unelected officials, the Federal Reserve must be accountable to the American people as it undertakes that effort."
Greenspan met more frequently with Treasury officials during the Clinton administration than during the Bush administration, the records show. Smith, who worked at the Clinton Treasury Department before joining the Fed, noted that international economic policymaking was more concentrated at Treasury in the Clinton administration.
Since the 1950s, when the Fed's independence was firmly established, its chairmen have generally taken pains to maintain their distance from the executive branch. The Fed's ability to conduct monetary policy without regard to political fallout is thought to be key to its credibility in financial markets.
Greenspan has always maintained public contact with administration officials. But the Fed was seen as so independent early in his 17-year tenure as chairman that some in the first Bush White House blamed him for contributing to their 1992 election loss to Bill Clinton.
President Bush said last week he is nominating Greenspan to a fifth term as chairman. This comes as the Fed has signaled it will soon start raising interest rates to stave off higher inflation.
Greenspan's frequent contacts with the Bush administration do raise questions for Kenneth H. Thomas, a lecturer in finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "There's the appearance that [Greenspan] might not just be affected by economic winds, but possibly by political winds," said Thomas, who obtained records of Greenspan's appointments back to 1996 through the Freedom of Information Act, and who published his findings in an article in the American Banker last month.
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