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Independence of Federal Financial Regulators: Structure, Funding, and Other Issues

CRS, February 28, 2017:  “Conventional wisdom regarding regulators is that the structure and design of the organization matters for policy outcomes. Financial regulators conduct rulemaking and enforcement to implement law and supervise financial institutions. These agencies have been given certain characteristics that enhance their day-to-day independence from the President and Congress, which may make policymaking more technical and less “political” or “partisan,” for better or worse. Independence may also make regulators less accountable to elected officials and can reduce congressional influence, at least in the short term. Although independent agencies share many characteristics, there are notable differences. Some federal financial regulators are relatively more independent in some areas but relatively less so in others. Major structural characteristics of federal financial regulators that influence independence include agency head: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Reserve (Fed), National Credit Union Association (NCUA), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have multi-member boards or commissions led by a chair, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) are led by single directors. party affiliation: for multi-member boards or commissions, statute sets a party balance among members for all except the Fed. term in office: terms in office are fixed in length, varying among the regulators from 5 years to 14 years, and do not coincide with the President’s term. Terms for Fed governors and NCUA board members are not renewable. grounds for removal: although not always specified in statute, it appears that the regulator heads can only be removed “for cause” (e.g., malfeasance or neglect of duty), with the exception of the Comptroller of the Currency. executive oversight: rulemaking, testimony, legislative proposals, and budget requests are not subject to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review. congressional oversight: agencies are statutorily required to submit periodic reports to Congress. Agency officials testify before Congress upon request; some are also statutorily required to do so periodically. Agencies are subject to Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits and investigations. Top leadership is subject to Senate confirmation. Agency rulemaking can be overturned under the Congressional Review Act. funding: the SEC’s and CFTC’s budgets are set through congressional authorization and appropriations, whereas other regulators set their own budgets. These budgets are funded through the collection of fees or other revenues, with the exception of the CFTC and CFPB. From time to time, Congress has considered legislation that would alter the structure and design of some of the federal financial regulators, including changes to their leadership and funding structure, the Congressional Review Act, and cost-benefit analysis requirements.”

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