The Reagan administration is considering the creation of an interagency task force headed by Vice President George Bush to study consolidation of the numerous federal financial agencies that regulate banks, savings institutions, securities firms and other financial intermediaries.
Under the existing system, three separate agencies have responsibility for regulating commercial banking, and at least eight are involved in regulating the securities markets. The system -- according to Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, who proposed the task force -- leads to unequal treatment of different institutions and makes it more difficult to fix responsibility for regulation and to handle problem cases.
A spokesman for Bush said yesterday that the vice president has tentatively agreed to chair the group with Regan serving as vice chairman. The Treasury Department would provide the staff. The White House must still approve the task force.
Neither congressional members nor industry representatives would be members of the task force. The new group would be in conjunction with, but separate from, the regulatory relief task force that Bush already heads.
Since he became secretary, Regan has set as a goal the deregulation of financial institutions, from a money market deposit account to allowing bank holding companies a major role in the securities industry.
To expedite that enormously complex endeavor, the secretary, in a memo to Bush released yesterday, suggested that the task force focus solely on reforming the structure of financial regulation, rather than discussing, as others have proposed, fundamental changes in the laws separating banking from securities underwriting. He stressed the necessity for prompt action.
The other members of the task force would be the heads of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the National Credit Union Administration, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and senior officials of the Department of Justice, the Office of Policy Development and the Office of Management and Budget.
At various times in the past year, many of these regulators have discussed the need for reform, all the while acknowledging the inherent political difficulties. Last month, FHLBB Chairman Richard Pratt suggested that the Federal Reserve, the nation's central bank, abandon its regulatory power over bank holding companies and focus solely on monetary policy.
In Pratt's opinion, the FDIC should be stripped of bank regulatory authority so that it can concentrate on insurance. Chartering and regulation should be placed in the hands of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Bank Board, or these two should be merged. He also suggested turning insurance over to the private sector, with the government acting as reinsurer.
Comptroller C. T. Conover agrees that there are too many agencies and would begin by consolidating the insurers. When this proposal was made in the Senate last year, NCUA chairman Edgar Callahan supported the concept of increased efficiency, but objected to the mechanics of such a consolidation.
FDIC chairman William Isaac also demurred at that time, but recently said, "I am convinced that the present system of five agencies of regulators for depository institutions at the federal level must be reformed."
One study of government insurance, ordered by Congress, is due by late spring. It will explore the possibility of combining the insurance agencies, creating optional insurance for depositors above $100,000 and requiring institutions to pay premiums related to their soundness and the risk they pose to the federal insurance funds.