WASHINGTON — Richard Berner, director of the Office of Financial Research, on Wednesday tried to assuage fears by Republican senators that a recent report on the asset management industry could serve as the basis for a designation that such firms are systemically important.

At a sparsely attended Senate Banking economic policy subcommittee hearing, Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., David Vitter, R-La., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., raised concerns that a report released in September by the data and research arm of the Financial Stability Oversight Council would lay the groundwork for designation of asset management firms .

Berner tried to make clear that the report was based on widespread activities across the industry and not on individual firms.

"Analytically it could not be the sole basis," said Berner, pointing out that analysis on a specific firm would need to be conducted. "It's only one ingredient in the council's deliberations."

Fidelity Inc., BlackRock Inc. and PIMCO have been fighting efforts by regulators to consider labeling asset management firms as systemically important. The industry has sought to discount the credibility of the OFR's report repeatedly, arguing that the findings provided an incomplete and inaccurate view of the industry.

Berner said the agency made clear it provided estimates in its report given that there were significant data gaps in such areas like separately managed accounts and securities lending transactions.

While Berner acknowledged that the OFR did not directly ask asset managers for data, the agency engaged with 10 members of the industry along with trade groups to better understand the industry and their business models, he said.

During the question-and-session session, Vitter tried to convey the industry's "real frustration" during past meetings with the agency as bankers struggled to precisely understand future plans.

The council, which is overseen by Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary, requested the asset management report by the OFR in April 2012 to examine whether such firms could "transmit or amplify" risk across the financial system. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates such firms, later invited the industry to weigh in on the October report.

Berner explained that the agency worked with the SEC, which is a member of the council, from the start. He said the OFR "engaged aggressively for more than a year" on the asset management study.

Ahead of Wednesday's hearing, a group of bipartisan senators sent a letter to Lew urging the oversight council not to rely on the study as a basis for labeling such firms as SIFIs.

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