Government Sponsored Enterprises:

Advantages and Disadvantages of Creating a Single Housing GSE Regulator

GGD-97-139: Published: Jul 9, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of creating a single regulator for the three housing government-sponsored enterprises (GSE).

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's ongoing work has strengthened its belief that the housing GSE regulators would be more effective if combined and authorized to oversee both safety and soundness and mission compliance; (2) nothing GAO has observed has caused it to modify GAO's criteria for an appropriate regulatory structure; (3) although there have been changes in the regulatory oversight of the housing GSEs since GAO first established these criteria, neither the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), nor the Federal Housing Finance Board (FHFB) meets all five criteria; (4) in particular, GAO notes that FHFB is not an arm's-length regulator, and it is still involved in governance of the FHLBank System; (5) in addition, regulation of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's mission compliance and safety and soundness is the responsibility of HUD and OFHEO; (6) combining oversight into one agency would have several advantages; (7) such an agency could be more independent and objective than the separate regulatory bodies and could be more prominent than either one alone; (8) although the GSEs operate differently, the risks they manage and their missions are similar; (9) the regulators' expertise in evaluating GSE risk management could be shared more easily within one agency; (10) the primary disadvantage to combing oversight into one agency would be whatever short-term disruption reorganization might cause to the ongoing operations of the regulators; (11) GAO's analysis of different regulatory structures indicated that an independent, arm's-length, stand-alone regulatory body headed by a board would best fit GAO's criteria for an effective regulatory agency structure for the housing GSEs; (12) an independent regulatory body, as opposed to one within an executive branch department, should be better positioned to achieve the autonomy and prominence necessary to oversee the large and influential housing GSEs; (13) using a board to govern the independent regulatory agency would enable Congress to provide for representation that could help ensure the regulator's independence and provide appropriate balance and expertise in the regulators' deliberations of both safety and soundness and mission-related issues; (14) having an independent board would allow it to be structured to provide equal links to HUD, due to its role in housing policy, and Treasury, due to its roles in finance and financial institution oversight; and (15) however, such an arrangement would sacrifice the advantages of having the different perspectives, expertise, prestige, and stability a board could provide.

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