Awash in a Tidal Wave of Paper

The nation's mortgage lenders spent countless hours filling out their Home Mortgage Disclosure forms. The Federal Reserve spent $5.4 million developing systems, compiling, and distributing the data. But can anybody use it? Only with great difficulty.

The easiest way to get data on more than one bank is to head for one of the "data dumps" or central data depositories. The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council sent HMDA reports to "accessible" locations in 341 cities.

But in some cities the data are in large boxes - thousands of sheets of unbound, unindexed paper. At the Los Angeles dump - the city clerk's office - there are 19,200 loose papers. In New York, at the city Human Rights Commission, there are 18,500. After a few people have gone through the data, finding things is a daunting task.

Community Groups at a Disadvantage

"We wanted to get the data out as quickly as possible," said a Fed official.

Computer tapes are available for $500, but a mainframe computer is necessary to run and sort the data. Although banks could probably handle this to get the data on competitors, most community groups and news organizations lack such resources.

Frustrated data seekers can buy printed reports from the examination council. But at $50 a report, it is difficult for community groups to afford more than a few of these. Banks must make their reports available at their major branch, which might mean a lot of stops for anyone looking for the data.

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