The Federal Reserve, the government's most influential economic policy-making institution, is overwhelmingly dominated by white men, most of whom have close ties to the banking industry, according to a congressional study released yesterday.
The report, prepared at the direction of Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Banking Committee, found only a handful of women or minorities serving in top policy-making jobs in Washington or as directors of the Fed's 12 regional banks and 25 branch banks nationwide.
Despite a 1977 law requiring diversity of membership and public participation on the Fed boards, consumers, labor unions, small-business executives and farmers have little representation, according to the Banking Committee staff report.
Two-thirds of the board of directors for each of the 12 regional Fed banks are elected by commercial banks in each area that belongs to the Fed system.
There are only three women among the 72 directors of regional Fed banks selected by commercial bankers in each region and all but two of the 72 are white, the survey reported. There is one black and one Asian American.
There are no representatives of consumer groups or labor organizations among the 72 bank-elected directors. Seventy-seven percent of those directors are either current or former commercial bankers, the report said.
The other one-third of the directors are appointed by the seven-member Federal Reserve Board.
The report said the Fed, the members of which are appointed by the president, has a disappointing record on the question of diversity. Fed Governor Martha Seger is only the second woman to serve on the Fed board and there are no minorities.
The 36 regional board members appointed by the Fed board are still heavily drawn from the ranks of white males with connections to banking or big business, the report said.
Seventy-seven percent of the Fed board's appointments are white and 83 percent are male. Half the Fed's appointments are former bankers, while none comes from a consumer organization or a labor union, the study said.
"Most of the Federal Reserve directors are drawn from the ranks of big business and banking," Gonzalez said in a statement. "You have to question whether people working in the highfalutin world of high finance and business can really understand the impact higher interest rates have on the average workers' purchasing power and job security."
Federal Reserve spokesman Bob Moore said officials at the central bank had not received the House report and would have no comment until they had a chance to review the study.
Gonzalez has been a longtime critic of the Federal Reserve, but his elevation to committee chairman last year has given him a powerful forum from which to direct his attack.
Gonzalez said that to correct its "appalling record of representation by women and minorities," the Fed should drop its insistence that the bank-appointed directors be current or former bank executives and should utilize nationwide lists of minority-owned businesses in the selection process.
There is legislation pending before Gonzalez's committee that would make the central bank more accountable to Congress and the administration for its actions.
The measure, opposed by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, has not picked up widespread support in Congress, but Gonzalez's report on the Fed's appointment practices was certain to be used as ammunition by those who say the central bank needs to be held more accountable for its actions.
Gonzalez said the report released yesterday would be followed by reports pointing up other shortcomings.
Gonzalez's review is the first in more than a decade by Congress of the central bank and its chairman, often called the second most powerful position in the country because of the Fed's control over interest rates.
Greenspan has argued that any effort to jeopardize his agency's independence would be detrimental to the Fed's fight to keep inflation in check.
But Gonzalez said the central bank is using the issue of political independence as a smoke screen to obscure its domination by the banking industry.
"Over the years, the Federal Reserve has been quite successful in attaining political independence, but the cost of that independence is the perpetuation of a government agency that often operates behind closed doors, has little contact with the people whose lives are most affected by its actions and whose structure fails to reflect the diversity of the nation it was created to serve," Gonzalez said.