So, I was spending some quality time with the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of the Inspector General’s most recent Semiannual Report to the Congress. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is the regulator of Fannie and Freddie as well as their conservator. Essentially, the FHFA calls all of the shots for the two companies.
It got me to wondering, does the Office of the Inspector General really have a handle on whether Fannie and Freddie are in good shape or not? The report opens with a Snapshot of OIG Accomplishments. The Snapshot contains the following categories:
- OIG Investigations Monetary Results
- Judicial Actions
- Hotline Contacts
- Audit and Evaluation Reports Issued
- White Papers Issued
- Office of Compliance and Special Projects Reports Issued
- Nonmonetary Recommendations Made
- Regulations Reviewed
- Responses to Requests Under the Freedom of Information Act
As I read through the report, I had the distinct feeling that I had got lost among the trees of bureaucratic oversight and had lost sight of the contours of the Frannie forest.
I want to know one thing — are the two companies solvent and will they be solvent for the foreseeable future? The OIG’s Snapshot is pretty backward facing and focuses on a lot of pretty minor issues, like counting hotline contacts, instead of focusing on the fundamentals.
I know, I know — if we can measure something, then we want to share it with the world, but the Snapshot actually decreases my faith that OIG and FHFA are taking care of the entire forest and not just a few of the trees they were able to measure.
That being said, the report does get to some of the important issues later on. It acknowledges that
Since September 2008, FHFA has administered two conservatorships of unprecedented scope and undeterminable duration. Under HERA,the Agency’s actions as conservator are not subject to judicial review or intervention, nor are they subject to procedural safeguards that are ordinarily applicable to regulatory activities such as rulemaking. As conservator of the Enterprises, FHFA exercises control over trillions of dollars in assets and billions of dollars in revenue, and makes business and policy decisions that influence and impact the entire mortgage finance industry. For reasons of efficiency, concordant goals with the Enterprises, and operational savings, FHFA has determined to delegate revocable authority for general corporate governance and day-to-day matters to the Enterprises’ boards of directors and executive management. (10)
The OIG clearly understands what is at stake in the conservatorships. But as I read the remainder of the report, I did not see sufficient emphasis on the range of risks that Fannie and Freddie face, such as hedging risk and operational risk. Hopefully, someone at the FHFA is paying sufficient attention to the range of risks the two companies face. If not, we can expect a new type of crisis down the pike.