WASHINGTON -- Federal Reserve officials hope to negotiate a deal to release partial records of past monetary policy meetings, according to documents released by the House Banking Committee.
The central bank has considered a plan to release edited transcripts of past meetings. with a lag of three years, the documents indicate. In addition, the documents detail fears by Fed officials that the Justice Department would not support the agency should it face a legal battle over release of the records.
The information was detailed in Federal Reserve notes of a telephone meeting held by governors and district bank presidents in anticipation of a House Banking Committee hearing in October. The notes were obtained by the committee and released to the public.
Firmly Opposed, Publicly
Until now, Fed officials have been steadfast in their opposition to public release of the documents. The argue that without a guarantee of privacy, their ability to conduct monetary policy would be hindered. They assert that discussion of the full range of monetary policy options available to them, problems at specific banks, and consideration of international events would be hindered.
But Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez chairman of the House Banking Committee, has said that in order for the Fed to remain fully accountable to the public, it must have full and speedy access to monetary policy decisions, as well as deliberations leading up to the debates. He has introduced legislation requiring the Fed to release full transcripts of the meetings 30 days afterwards.
Currently, the Fed releases only sketchy minutes of open market meetings about six weeks afterward.
Disclosure of the Fed's notes on its telephone conversation follows weeks of wrangling between the Fed and Congress on public disclosure of minutes kept at monetary policy meetings. In October, Fed chairman Alan Greenspan disclosed that the Fed has kept unedited transcripts of FOMC meetings since 1976. The presence of these transcripts had not been previously disclosed.
According to the notes of the Fed's discussion of the issue, the agency's general counsel told the group that its chances of withholding material more than three-years old were not good. He cited a recent Justice Department directive to encourage disclosure of information government-wide.
The notes indicate that Mr. Greenspan though the agency might be able to withhold raw transcripts, but is unlikely to succeed in withholding edited notes or a memorandum of discussion. He presented several options to the group: release unedited transcripts, or release a memorandum describing in detail the discussion at each FOMC meeting.
The notes of the Fed telephone meeting released indicate that the agency would like some sort of legislative protection from any new disclosure policy.
In a recent letter to the Fed. Rep. Gonzalez said he would be willing to work with the agency to develop legislation on release of the tapes.