The General Accounting Office said government financial regulators should make a bigger effort to coordinate the activities of their examiners and their divisions that investigate complaints.
Most of the time, the GAO said, bank examiners are not even aware that complaint investigators have uncovered violations of the law or regulations at an institution that is being examined.
The report, done at the behest of the House subcommittee on commerce, consumer and monetary affairs, was released yesterday.
The report examined the three bank regulatory agencies--the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board--as well as the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which regulates savings and loan associations, and the National Credit Union Administration.
The GAO, the audit arm of Congress, said it looked into 119 "serious complaints" that turned up violations of laws or regulations. In only one-third of the cases was an examiner informed that the violation had occurred since the last examination.
"Only 11 percent of the cases suggested that any special or additional work was done during the examination because of such complaints," the report said.
The main job of an examiner is to determine the soundness of a financial institution, but the examiners also are supposed to look at how well banks adhere to other laws and rules including anti-discrimination statutes.
Many of the more serious complaints from consumers alleged that there had been discrimination of some sort in the granting or refusal of a loan. Discrimination complaints are supposed to receive special handling. But about half the time no special handling was involved, the GAO said.
The GAO report said that the agencies agreed with the GAO recommendations for the most part and told GAO that they are developing "specific plans" to review their procedures.