Friday, May 20, 2011

An OFR We Can’t Refuse?

Around here new federal agencies empowered to collect statistical data are always a matter of interest, although, to be sure, I’d just as soon see them firmly in the hands of people deeply steeped in data collection and management activities, thus in agencies like the Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (DFA), Public Law No. 111-203, established an Office of Financial Research (OFR) but within the Treasury Department. The general idea behind this office is to standardize financial reporting requirements by regulation and to collect data on financial patterns in an effort, looking ahead, of preventing the kind of financial meltdown we’ve experienced in the Great Recession. The ears of statistical people everywhere, I’m sure, are up and listening hard.

Thus far the OFR is only beginning to organize itself. Its chief mission will be support the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). Projected staffing will be 60 people, and the up-and-running date now projected is September.

This much by way of taking note of something that might, ultimately become an important statistical lens on yet another aspect of the economy, but caution is indicated. This new baby is under the eyes of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, not a person I think has the right stuff—whatever stuff you have in mind. OFR, therefore, may turn out to be invisible in the future, strictly supplying regulators and holding cards tight to the chest where public information is concerned. To give the public a genuine view into that thicket, finance, with reliable statistics? Why that’s downright dangerous!

The ears are up, the eyes are open. As for the rest, we’ll see.

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