Financial public information slow in coming

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Six months old today, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act provided vast new powers for federal regulators to collect information on financial institutions—information that could be crucial in staving off future crises, some vital elements to be released publicly. Yet the machinery of government grinds slowly, and the public has yet to see much of it.

  • President Barack Obama has yet to appoint a director for the  Office of Financial Research, a new Treasury office that has been called the “CIA of financial regulators” because of its far-reaching power to gather data and information on financial institutions. The office, which is supposed to supply data and analysis for the also newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council, is also required to produce several public databases to help track financial instruments. So far the office’s main action was in November, when it published a proposed policy statement in the Federal Register on creating universal identifiers for a particular legal entity that takes part in a financial transaction.
  • Bizarrely, the federal government has no way of tracking foreclosure rates. Even the General Accountability Office relied on private data sources to do  analysis of the foreclosure crisis. The new law mandates that the department of Housing and Urban Development create a new public database tracking foreclosures. However, an agency spokesman, Brian Sullivan, says the department faces legal and resource issues and that the database may be as many as three years in the making—even as the national scandal over banks employing robo-signers on loans continues to unfold.
  • One of the major transparency provisions of the new law is to bring trading of derivatives—or swaps—into transparency, by requiring that such trades be reported publicly in “real-time”. The Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC) published proposed rules for “real-time” reporting in December. While the law requires that the final rules be published by July, the agency notes that “participants will need a reasonable amount of time in which to acquire or configure the necessary systems,” and says that some of the reporting is not expected to be made public until January 2012.

These are just a few examples from the vast world of financial regulation where vital public information is slow in coming. In the coming months, the Sunlight Foundation will be tracking closely the tender transparency points in the way our government regulates financial industries, as well as the lobbying forces that help sway the government’s actions. Stay tuned.

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