FAQs: Fed Basics
- Who owns the Federal Reserve?
- How is the Federal Reserve System structured?
- What are the responsibilities/functions of the Federal Reserve System?
- Does the Federal Reserve operate using tax dollars?
- Does the Federal Reserve pay taxes?
- Who audits the Federal Reserve and how often?
Who owns the Federal Reserve?
The Federal Reserve System is not "owned" by anyone and is not a private, profit-making institution. Instead, it is an independent entity within the government, having both public purposes and private aspects. As the nation's central bank, the Federal Reserve derives its authority from the U.S. Congress. It is considered an independent central bank because its decisions do not have to be ratified by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branch of government, it does not receive funding appropriated by Congress, and the terms of the members of the Board of Governors span multiple presidential and congressional terms. However, the Federal Reserve is subject to oversight by Congress, which periodically reviews its activities and can alter its responsibilities by statute. Also, the Federal Reserve must work within the framework of the overall objectives of economic and financial policy established by the government. Therefore, the Federal Reserve can be more accurately described as "independent within the government."
The 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, which were established by Congress as the operating arms of the nation's central banking system, are organized much like private corporations-possibly leading to some confusion about "ownership." For example, the Reserve Banks issue shares of stock to member banks. However, owning Reserve Bank stock is quite different from owning stock in a private company. The Reserve Banks are not operated for profit, and ownership of a certain amount of stock is, by law, a condition of membership in the System. The stock may not be sold, traded or pledged as security for a loan; dividends are, by law, 6 percent per year.Back to Top
How is the Federal Reserve System structured?
The Federal Reserve System has a structure designed by Congress to give it a broad perspective on the economy and on economic activity in all parts of the nation. It is a federal system, composed basically of a central, governmental agency, the Board of Governors, in Washington, D.C., and 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, located in major cities throughout the nation. These components share responsibility for supervising and regulating certain financial institutions and activities; for providing banking services to depository institutions and to the federal government; and for ensuring that consumers receive adequate information and fair treatment in their business with the banking system.
A major component of the System is the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which is made up of the members of the Board of Governors, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and presidents of four other Federal Reserve Banks, who serve on a rotating basis. The FOMC oversees open market operations, which is the main tool used by the Federal Reserve to influence money market conditions and the growth of money and credit.
The Federal Reserve System was structured with two levels of authority-the Board of Governors, located in Washington, D.C., has a centralized and supervisory public influence over the Reserve Banks, while the individual Reserve Banks maintain narrower control over their own day-to-day operations. For a map of the districts, see www.federalreserve.gov/otherfrb.htm.Back to Top
What are the responsibilities/functions of the Federal Reserve System?
Today, the Federal Reserve's responsibilities fall into four general areas:
- Conducting the nation's monetary policy by influencing money and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of full employment and stable prices;
- Supervising and regulating banking institutions to ensure the safety and soundness of the nation's banking and financial system and to protect the credit rights of consumers;
- Maintaining the stability of the financial system and containing systemic risk that may arise in financial markets;
- Providing certain financial services to the U.S. government, to the public, to financial institutions, and to foreign official institutions, including playing a major role in operating the nation's payments systems.
For a detailed overview of the Federal Reserve and its responsibilities, see The Federal Reserve System: Purposes and Functions.Back to Top
Does the Federal Reserve operate using tax dollars?
The Federal Reserve's income is derived primarily from the interest on U.S. government securities that it has acquired through open market operations. Other sources of income are the interest on foreign currency investments held by the System; fees received for services provided to depository institutions, such as check clearing, funds transfers and automated clearinghouse operations; and interest on loans to depository institutions (the rate on which is the so-called discount rate). After paying its expenses, the Federal Reserve turns the rest of its earnings over to the U.S. Treasury.Back to Top
Does the Federal Reserve pay taxes?
After paying expenses, the Fed turns our profits over to the Treasury Department each year. We pay no income taxes. However, we pay real estate taxes, personnel related taxes such as unemployment insurance, workers compensation tax and social security withholding tax, etc.Back to Top
Who audits the Federal Reserve and how often?
The Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve Banks, and the Federal Reserve System as a whole are all subject to several levels of audit and review. Under the Federal Banking Agency Audit Act (enacted in 1978 as Public Law 95-320), which authorizes the Comptroller General of the United States to audit the Federal Reserve System, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted numerous reviews of Federal Reserve activities. In addition, the Board's Office of Inspector General (OIG) audits and investigates Board programs and operations as well as those Board functions delegated to the Reserve Banks. Completed and active GAO reviews and completed OIG audits, reviews and assessments are listed in the Board’s Annual Report (before 2002, the reviews were listed in the Board's Annual Report: Budget Review).
The Board's financial statements, and its compliance with laws and regulations affecting those statements, are audited annually by an outside auditor retained by the OIG. The financial statements of the Reserve Banks are also audited annually by an independent outside auditor. In addition, the Reserve Banks are subject to annual examination by the Board. The Board's financial statements and the combined financial statements for the Reserve Banks are published in the Board's Annual Report.
The Federal Reserve's ultimate accountability is to Congress, which at any time can amend the Federal Reserve Act. Legislation requires that the Fed report annually on its activities to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and twice annually on its plans for monetary policy to the banking committees of Congress. Fed officials also testify before Congress when requested.
To ensure financial accountability, the financial statements of the Federal Reserve Banks and the Board of Governors are audited annually by an independent outside auditor. In addition, the Government Accountability Office, as well as the Board's Office of Inspector General, can audit Federal Reserve activities.Back to Top