While calling an unprecedented General Accounting Office study on bank regulation generally accurate, the nation's three federal bank regulators yesterday took issue with the GAO's conclusion that they have been too lenient in supervising the nation's 14,700 banks.
Representatives of the Federal Reserve Board, Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. minimized the number of banks that have failed or been classified as problems and said many of the violations of laws found by examiners are "technical" or "trivial."
The three agencies expressed no opposition to a GAO recommendation that would establish a bank regulatory council to coordinate the activities of the agencies. In contrast to regulators' objections last year to having the GAO study their operations, FDIC chairman Robert E. Barnett said he has told GAO it may aduit the agency in the future.
The comments came during the second of two days of joint hearings on the GAO's report by the House Banking Committee and the House Government Operations Committee's monetary affairs subcommittee.
The Washington Post reported Dec. 26 that the GAO, the congressional audit agency, found 55 per cent of 600 banks sampled at random had been cited by bank examiners for violating federal or state laws and regulations.
The GAO's final report, released Monday, drew a distinction between laws that affect the soundness of a bank - such as exceeding lending limits - and those that do not.
The GAO found an average of 17 per cent of the banks sampled at the three regulatory agencies had violated legal lending limits. And average of 11 per cent had made illegal loans to insiders, and an average of 8 per cent had made illegal loans to their own affiliates.
Other violations concerned truth-in-lending laws, interest rate ceilings, reporting and bank premises laws, and collateral requirements on loans.
"The GAO study directs considerable attention to banking problems and 'problem banks,'" Federal Reserve Board Governor Stephen S. Gardner said."Relatively few banks, less than 5 per cnt of the 14,000 banks in the U.S., have been on the 'problem lists' of the agencies at any one time," he said.
When banks fail, Gardner said, nearly all depositors recover all their money.
"Banks . . . were generally able to cope with these extraordinary problems (caused by the recent recession)," Gardner said. "And there are no conclusions in the GAO study that suggest we do not still have a viable and sound banking industry."