WASHINGTON - Robert McTeer, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, doodles during Federal Open Market Committee meetings.
He's probably not the only Fed official to sketch during deliberations about monetary policy, but he was the only one to admit it to Congress last week.
His confession came at a House Banking Committee hearing on Fed openness and accountability.
To get some idea about the amount of meeting records that are kept - and could be used to leak decisions to the public - Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez asked each member of the Fed's monetary policy committee about note-taking.
Governor Susan M. Phillips takes "sporadic personal notes." Her colleagues Wayne Angell and Lawrence Lindsey characterized theirs as "sketchy." John LaWare jots down "brief bullet points." Edward Kelley's musings are in pencil.
Under Lock and Key
Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan takes "very brief, rough notes" to keep track of committee sentiment and judge "where a consensus may be reached." He keeps his records in locked filed cabinets.
District presidents William McDonough, Robert T. Parry, and Edward G. Boehne said they take no notes at all.
But only Mr. McTeer mentioned doodling. "My doodles and notes all mixed up would be of no use to traders or journalists," he said. "I destroy them after the meeting."
Rep. Gonzalez wants the Fed to release more timely and more thorough accounts of these monetary policy discussions. Currently, the Fed releases its monetary policy decisions, as well as a summary of the discussion, about six weeks after a meeting.
The Fed officials offered the Texas Democrat little help in his quest to uncover leaks. Many responded quite artfully to his questions, saying they had no "direct" or "personal" knowledge of leaks.
But some were more forceful.
"We are the central bank," said Jerry Jordan, president of the Cleveland Fed. "Central banks do not leak."
Mr. Jordan did not convince everyone. Economist Anna Schwartz told the committee about a study showing that in 11 of 34 FOMC meetings held between March 1989 and May 1993, the Wall Street Journal reported the decisions within a week. The leaks were largely accurate, she said.
The study was authored by Michael Belongia, a former economist at the St. Louis Fed, and Kevin Kliesen, who still works there.
Their report was to have been published in a St. Louis Fed journal, but was pulled because of the issue's sensitivity.
Admits Pulling Report
After learning of the study's Fed origins, Mr. Gonzalez wrote St. Louis Fed president Thomas C. Melzer, asking for an explanation. Mr. Melzer confirmed that he pulled the story from the journal, not wanting to "cause confusion about the bank's position on FOMC disclosure."
In discussing leaks, Mr. Greenspan and Fed vice chairman David Mullins suggested members may have unintentionally leaked information, or made comments that were manipulated by the press.
But not everyone bought that description.
"If unintentional, they reflect a naivete which should not be allowed to lurk anywhere near the FOMC," Mr. LaWare said.
At the hearing. Mr. Greenspan assured Congress that he has put a stop to the leaks.
"It has been made clear that any future leak from an FOMC meeting will be followed up very aggressively, by a full investigation that will include gathering sworn statements from all attendees," he said.