U.S. Comptroller General Elmer B. Staats yesterday recommended establishment of a federal council to coordinate the bank regulatory activities of the Federal Reserve Board, the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Staats said he considered the move a "minimum" step towards correcting some of the weaknesses in a General Accounting Office study of federal bank regulatory efforts. He said he would include in the council representatives of the Federal Home Bank Board, which regulates savings and loan associations, and of state banking commissions.
Staat proposed the council as an alternative to consolidating three federal bank regulatory agencies, as has been recommended by Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.).
"I don't think you have to go as far as consolidation," Staats said.
Staats, who heads the GAO, the audit branch of Congress, made the comments on the first of two days of joint hearings by the House banking committee's financial institutions subcommittee and the House government operations committee's monetary affairs subcommittee.
The hearings, which resume today with testimony from the three banking agencies, focus on GAO's study, which for the first time examined the effectiveness of the regulatory agencies in supervising the nation's 14,700 banks.
The Washington Post reported Dec. 26 that a draft of the study revealed that 55 per cent of 600 banks sampled at random by the GAO had been cited by bank examiners for violating federal or state laws and regulations. The GAO released the report Monday.
Commenting on the circumstances that led to the study, Rep. Fernand J. St. Germain (D-R.I.), chairman of the financial institutions subcommittee, said, "The time has clearly come to remove bank examination from excessive secrecy. This unnecessary cloak has often served as a cloak for activity bordering on the criminal or has prevented Congress from discovering agency incompetence . . ."
"Until this GAO stay study," said Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal (D-N.Y.), chairman of the monetary affairs subcommittee, "they (the bank regulatory agencies) have succeeded in denying Congress and the public access to data on their essential operations," Rosenthal called for regular GAO scrutiny of the banking agencies' operations.
Staats said the GAO found an "over-willingness" on the part of the banking agencies to accept promises of improvement from the banks they regulate.
"On balance," he said, "we say we don't think they use these (regulatory) tools enough."