The Federal Reserve System (called the Fed, for short) is the nation’s central bank. It was established by an Act of Congress in 1913 and consists of the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., and twelve Federal Reserve District Banks (for a discussion of the Fed’s overall responsibilities, see The Federal Reserve System: Purposes and Functions).
The Congress structured the Fed to be independent within the government–that is, although the Fed is accountable to the Congress and its goals are set by law, its conduct of monetary policy is insulated from day-to-day political pressures. This reflects the conviction that the people who control the country’s money supply should be independent of the people who frame the government’s spending decisions.
What makes the Fed independent?
Three structural features give the Fed independence in its conduct of monetary policy: the appointment procedure for Governors, the appointment procedure for Reserve Bank Presidents, and funding.
Appointment procedure for Governors
The seven Governors on the Federal Reserve Board are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. Independence derives from a couple of factors: first, the appointments are staggered to reduce the chance that a single U.S. President could “load” the Board with appointees; second, their terms of office are 14 years—much longer than elected officials’ terms.
Appointment procedure for Reserve Bank Presidents
Each Reserve Bank President is appointed to a five-year term by that Bank’s Board of Directors, subject to final approval by the Board of Governors. This procedure adds to independence because the Directors of each Reserve Bank are not chosen by politicians but are selected to provide a cross-section of interests within the region, including those of depository institutions, nonfinancial businesses, labor, and the public.
The Fed is structured to be self-sufficient in the sense that it meets its operating expenses primarily from the interest earnings on its portfolio of securities. Therefore, it is independent of Congressional decisions about appropriations.
How is the Fed “independent within the government”?
Even though the Fed is independent of Congressional appropriations and administrative control, it is ultimately accountable to Congress and comes under government audit and review. Fed officials report regularly to the Congress on monetary policy, regulatory policy, and a variety of other issues, and they meet with senior Administration officials to discuss the Federal Reserve’s and the federal government’s economic programs. The Fed also reports to Congress on its finances.
Who makes monetary policy?
The Fed’s FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) has primary responsibility for conducting monetary policy. The FOMC meets in Washington eight times a year and has twelve members: the seven members of the Board of Governors, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and four of the other Reserve Bank Presidents, who serve in rotation. The remaining Reserve Bank Presidents contribute to the Committee’s discussions and deliberations.
In addition, the Directors of each Reserve Bank contribute to monetary policy by making recommendations about the appropriate discount rate, which are subject to final approval by the Governors.