House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach vowed Tuesday to protect public information on bank fees from the ax of a paperwork streamlining law.

Scheduled to be phased out by yearend are Federal Reserve Board reports on retail bank fees and on credit card price and availability.

Rep. Leach canvassed the banking and credit union agencies in April for their views on which reports marked for abolition under the Federal Reports Elimination and Sunset Act of 1995 should be retained.

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan responded on July 2 that the fee studies "could indeed be terminated."

The public can gather information similar to that found in the semiannual credit card report from research firms, consumer magazines, and Internet sites, Mr. Greenspan wrote. The annual bank fee report is scheduled to stop in 2000 anyway.

Though Rep. Leach agreed that information on fees is widely available, he said Tuesday that "by bringing all of this information together in one convenient place, the Fed reports are a valuable resource to American consumers."

Rep. Leach said he will propose legislation this fall to preserve the reports. The bill would also seek to continue the mandate, slated to expire this year, for semiannual congressional testimony on monetary policy by the Fed chairman. Mr. Greenspan, too, favored continuing this testimony.

Consumer advocates argue that fee data should stay in the public eye as a safeguard against gouging.

"The fact is, 11 million families minimum-using Fed data-don't have bank accounts," said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "I think that's because the fees are going up."

With banking companies poised to expand into securities and insurance activities if financial reform legislation passes, fee reporting must be kept out in the open, said Ken Williams, president of Moebs Services Inc., the Lake Bluff, Ill., economic research company that culls the data for the Fed's bank fee report.

Banks getting into new lines of business could "fund them with increases in basic services to customers," Mr. Williams said.

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