Restoring the Promise of Federal Reserve Governance

59 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2020

See all articles by Peter Conti-Brown

Peter Conti-Brown

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School; Brookings Institution

Date Written: January 3, 2020


The US Federal Reserve System (Fed) is famous for its organizational complexity. Overlooked in debates about the costs and benefits of this complexity for the Fed’s legitimacy, independence, and accountability is the congressional vision of what the Fed should be. The central bank is governed by a highly accountable seven-person Board of Governors to manage the rest of the system. Time and experience have eroded this authority as a matter of practice but not as a matter of law. The Fed governors are supposed to supervise the system, a legal aspiration that has increasingly been enervated by institutional drift. Using empirical and historical tools, this paper discusses the erosion of the Board of Governors over the Fed’s century-long history, including the substantial reduction in real compensation for the governors, their diminished participation in Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings, and the increased vacancies that recently have been driven by the political process. To address these problems, the paper suggests reforms across three divides: cultural, regulatory, and legislative. Remedies include changing norms of FOMC meeting participation to place nonvoting members of the FOMC as “observers”; clarifying the role of the Fed’s Board of Governors in supervising the Federal Reserve Banks, particularly with respect to the presidential search process; increasing attention to vacancies and promoting bipartisan interest in credible candidates; and increasing governor salaries to match those of their colleagues at the 12 Federal Reserve Banks, consistent with legislative intent from 1913.

Keywords: Federal Reserve, central banking, monetary policy, Jerome Powell

JEL Classification: E5, G2, K2, N1

Suggested Citation

Conti-Brown, Peter, Restoring the Promise of Federal Reserve Governance (January 3, 2020). Mercatus Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Peter Conti-Brown (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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