WASHINGTON — Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, all but begged lawmakers on Tuesday to begin the process of reforming the nation's housing finance system, saying Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in conservatorship for far too long.

"I need Congress and the administration to agree on a legislative path that defines the role of the government in the mortgage market so we can know what we are building towards as we build for the future," said DeMarco in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. "It is unprecedented that two enormous financial institutions such as these have been in conservatorship for more than four and a half years."

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