Its finances under congresional scrutiny, the Fed released its first audit by an independent accounting firm Tuesday.

The report, by Coopers & Lybrand, earned the 12 Federal Reserve Banks a clean opinion.

Income at the 12 banks totaled $23.9 billion in 1995. Interest income from government securities, foreign currencies, and loans to depository institutions was $24.6 billion. The Fed earned another $2 billion from fees for services and gains on securities holdings.

Operating expenses amounted to $2.7 billion, of which salaries and benefits was the biggest factor at $1.2 billion.

The Fed has come under fire recently from lawmakers accusing it of lax management and wasteful financial practices. In June, Rep. Henry Gonzalez. D-Tex., accused a branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco of doctoring cash reports to hide discrepancies totaling tens of millions of dollars.

Six months earlier, he complained that the Fed unfairly competes with private-sector couriers and bilks taxpayers by subsidizing a fleet of planes to ferry checks across the country.

A March 26 General Accounting Office report criticized the Fed for letting expenses grow twice as fast as inflation and for maintaining a $4 billion surplus.

The report prompted several lawmakers, including Reps. Barney Frank, D- Mass., and Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., to introduce legislation requiring that a portion of the surplus be used to cover payments on long-term bonds used to bailout the thrift industry in the late 1980s.

- Barbara A. Rehm and Bill McConnell

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