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A Day in the Life
of the


An Inside Look at the Federal Reser ve’s Monetar y Policymaking Body

A Day in the Life of the FOMC


A Day
in the Life
of the FOMC
An inside look at the Federal Reserve’s
monetary policymaking body


s long as the U.S. economy is growing

level of interest rates that businesses and consumers

steadily and inflation is low, few people give

pay. Those changes in money supply and interest

much thought to the Federal Open Market

rates, in turn, influence the nation’s economic growth

Committee, or FOMC, the group within the Federal

and employment in the short run and the general

Reserve System charged with setting monetary policy.

level of prices in the long run.

Yet, when economic volatility makes the evening
news, this Committee and its activities become much

As a result, many people have good reason to wonder

more prominent. Investors and workers, shoppers

about who makes these decisions about monetary

and savers all pay more attention to the FOMC’s

policy and how they make them. In these pages, we

decisions and the wording of its announcements at

will eliminate some of the mystery surrounding what

the end of each meeting.

goes on at the FOMC meetings in Washington, D.C.

Why? Because the decisions made by the FOMC have

The Mechanics of a Meeting

a ripple effect throughout the economy. The FOMC
is a key part of the Federal Reserve System, which
serves as the central bank of the United States. Among
the Fed’s duties are managing the growth of the
money supply, providing liquidity in times of crisis,
and ensuring the integrity of the financial system. The
FOMC’s decisions to change the growth of the nation’s
money supply affect the availability of credit and the


A Day in the Life of the FOMC

Let’s take a closer look at how our nation’s monetary
policymakers go about their task in a typical FOMC
meeting. Or, put simply, let’s spend a day in the life of
the FOMC.
The FOMC meets regularly — typically every six
to eight weeks — in Washington, D.C., although
the Committee can and does meet more often by
A Day in the Life of the FOMC


phone or videoconference if needed. The meetings

only one staff member, usually his or her director of

are generally one-day or two-day events, with the


two-day meetings providing more time to discuss
a special topic. A typical one-day meeting begins

The objective at each meeting is to set the

on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. and ends between 1:00

Committee’s target for the federal funds rate —

and 2:00 p.m. Two-day meetings usually begin on

the interest rate at which banks lend to each other

the afternoon of the first day, typically a Tuesday

overnight — at a level that will support the two key

afternoon, and end between noon and 2:00 p.m. on

objectives of U.S. monetary policy: price stability

the second day.

and maximum sustainable economic growth. The
meeting’s agenda follows a structured and logical

Around the table in the Federal Reserve Board’s

process that results in well-informed and thoroughly

headquarters sit all 19 FOMC participants (seven

deliberated decisions on the future course of

Governors and 12 Reserve Bank presidents) as

monetary policy.

well as select staff and economists from the Board
and the Reserve Banks. Because of the nature of

The meeting begins with a report from the manager

the discussions, attendance is restricted. A Reserve

of the System Open Market Account (SOMA) at

Bank president, for instance, typically brings along

the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who is

Some Facts About the Fed
The Federal Reserve System — commonly called
“the Fed” — serves as the central bank of the United
States. Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act in
1913, which President Woodrow Wilson supported
and signed into law on December 23, 1913. Congress
structured the Fed as a distinctly American version
of a central bank: a “decentralized” central bank,

with Reserve Banks and Branches in 12 Districts
spread across the country and coordinated by a Board
of Governors in Washington, D.C. Congress also
gave the Fed System a mixture of public and private
characteristics. The 12 Reserve Banks share many
features with private-sector corporations, including
boards of directors and stockholders (the member
banks within their Districts). The
Board of Governors, though, is an
independent government agency,
with oversight responsibilities for
the Reserve Banks.
The Fed conducts monetary
policy, supervises and regulates
banking, serves as lender of last
resort, maintains an effective and
efficient payments system, and
serves as banker for banks and the
U.S. government. Conducting the
nation’s monetary policy is one of
the most important — and often
the most visible — functions of
the Fed.


the Federal Reserve Act, 1913
A Day in the
of the FOMC

Above: Modern-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee at the Eccles Building,
Washington, D.C.

responsible for keeping the federal funds rate close

Then the meeting

to the target level set by the FOMC. The manager

progresses to the first

explains how well the Open Market Trading Desk

of two “go-rounds,”

has done in hitting the target level since the last

which are the core

FOMC meeting and discusses recent developments

of FOMC meetings.

in the financial and foreign exchange markets.

During the first goround, all of the Fed

Up next is the Federal Reserve Board’s director of

Governors and Reserve

the Division of Research and Statistics, along with

Bank presidents

the director of the Division of International Finance.

discuss how they see economic and financial

They review the Board staff’s outlook for the U.S.

conditions. The Reserve Bank presidents speak

economy and foreign economies. This detailed

about conditions in their Districts, as well as offering

forecast is circulated the week before the meeting to

their views on national economic conditions.

FOMC members in what is called the “Greenbook”
— named for its green cover in the days when it was

The data and information discussed vary by region

a printed document.

and therefore spotlight a wide range of industries.
A Day in the Life of the FOMC


So Who Votes?
For example, one would expect the review of

economic conditions by their Research Department

regional conditions in the San Francisco District to

staffs in the days leading up to the FOMC meeting.

lend insight into the tech sector of Silicon Valley. The

The briefings cover regional, national, and

Chicago District covers a region heavily dependent

international business and financial conditions.

on manufacturing and automobiles. Philadelphia’s
District has become much more diverse and

This first go-round covers valuable information about

representative of the national economy, so it tends to

economic activity throughout the country, measured

reflect what is happening across a variety of sectors.

in hard data and recent anecdotal information, as well
as the analysis and interpretation conveyed by the

The policymakers have prepared for this go-round

policymakers sitting around the table. This is a key

through weeks of information gathering. Before

way in which each region of the U.S. has input into

the FOMC meeting, each Reserve Bank prepares a

the making of national monetary policy. This portion

“Summary of Commentary on Current Economic

of the meeting concludes with the FOMC Chairman

Conditions,” which is published two weeks before

summarizing the discussion and providing the

each meeting in what most people call the “Beige

Chairman’s own view of the economy.

Book,” for the color of its cover when originally
printed. One Federal Reserve Bank, designated on

At this point, the policy discussion begins with the

a rotating basis, publishes the overall summary of

Federal Reserve Board’s director of the Division of

the 12 District reports. The Reserve Bank presidents

Monetary Affairs, who outlines the Committee’s

have also gathered information by talking with

various policy options. The policymakers receive

executives in a variety of business sectors and

these options usually by the Friday before the

through meetings with the Banks’ boards of

meeting in the “Bluebook,” again named for its

directors and advisory councils. In addition,

cover’s color when originally printed.

In the early days of the FOMC, controversy swirled around how to structure the vote. Should monetary policy
be set by the 12 Reserve Banks or the Board of Governors? Or both? In 1935 Congress decided that the seven
Governors would vote along with only five of the 12 presidents. The president of the New York Fed always votes —
since the Open Market Trading Desk operates in that District — along with four presidents who rotate from among
the groups shown below. In that way, voting members always come from different parts of the country.
Always Votes
Chairman of the Board
(Chair of FOMC)
+ Six Governors

President of the NY Fed
(Vice Chair of FOMC)

Rotating Vote (1 president from each group)
Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4




Kansas City






St. Louis

San Francisco

One-year voting terms begin with the first scheduled meeting in January, at which
time the Committee formally elects its officers. Traditionally, the Chairman of the
Board of Governors chairs the FOMC, and the New York Fed president serves as vice
chairman. Despite the voting design, all 19 policymakers participate equally in the
analysis and deliberations. Giving each president a seat at the FOMC table ensures
that a “decentralized” central bank sets monetary policy that reflects regional as well
as national economic conditions.

all Committee participants receive briefings on
The outlook options could include no change, an

a voting member or not — play an instrumental role

increase, or a decrease in the federal funds rate target.

in the FOMC’s policy decisions.

Each option is described, along with a clear rationale,

A Bit of Background: Monetary Policy
So, what is monetary policy? Simply put, it refers to
the actions taken by the Fed to influence the supply of
money and credit in order to foster price stability and
maintain maximum sustainable economic growth,
which are the key objectives established by Congress
for monetary policymakers in the U.S. The Federal
Reserve issues the nation’s currency (Federal Reserve
notes) and manages the amount of funds the banking
system holds as reserves. Currency and reserves
make up what is called the monetary base.
The Fed’s instrument for implementing monetary
policy is the FOMC’s target for the federal funds rate


A Day in the Life of the FOMC

— the interest rate at which banks lend to each other
overnight. By buying and selling U.S. government
securities in the open market,
the Fed influences the interest
rate that banks charge each
other. Movements in this
rate and expectations
about those changes
influence all other
interest rates and
asset prices in the

the pros and cons, and some alternatives for how

At the end of this policy go-round, the Chairman

the Committee could explain its decision in a public

summarizes a proposal for action based on the

statement to be released that afternoon.

Committee’s discussion, as well as a proposed
statement to explain the policy decision. The Fed

Then, there is a second go-round. The Reserve Bank

Governors and presidents then get a chance to

presidents and Governors each make the best case

question or comment on the Chairman’s proposed

for the policy alternative they prefer, given current

approach. Once a motion for a decision is on the table,

economic conditions and their personal outlook for

the Committee tries to come to a consensus through

the economy. They also comment on how they think

its deliberations. Although the final decision is most

the statement explaining the decision should be

often one that all can support, there are times when


some differences of opinion may remain, and voting
members may dissent.

One of the most important aspects of an FOMC
meeting is that all voices matter. The analysis and

The process brings a valuable diversity of views to

viewpoints of each committee participant — whether

monetary policy decisions. The Committee’s ability to

A Day in the Life of the FOMC


make thoughtful and sound policy choices
is strengthened by the interaction of
policymakers with different perspectives
and varied experiences. As American
writer and journalist Walter Lippmann
once said, “Where all men think alike, no
one thinks very much.” The give and take
at FOMC meetings reflects the remarkably
deliberative and thoughtful nature of
policymaking and makes the process
more constructive.
At the end of the policy discussion, all
seven of the Fed Governors and the five
voting Reserve Bank presidents cast a
formal vote on the proposed decision and
the wording of the statement.

FOMC Statements:
Communicating Policy Actions
After the vote has been taken, the FOMC
publicly announces its policy decision at
2:15 p.m. The announcement includes the
federal funds rate target, the statement
explaining its actions, and the vote tally,
including the names of the voters and the
preferred action of those who dissented.
In addition, the FOMC releases its official
minutes three weeks after each meeting.

Timeline to Transparency
with meeting minutes reflecting an ever-changing mix of
possible factors influencing the Committee’s decisions
about its fed funds rate target, ranging from indicators
of economic growth to commodity prices to exchange

Much has been said about the benefits of predictable
policy and its role in shaping the public’s expectations.
However, just two decades ago, the central bank’s
decisions were at times hard to discern. The Fed said
relatively little about its monetary policy and allowed
actions to speak for themselves.

Despite the lack of transparency, the financial press
reported extensively before each regularly scheduled
FOMC meeting on the likely decision of policymakers

The minutes include a more complete
explanation of the views expressed, which
allows the public to get a better sense of
the range of views within the FOMC and

However, markets — even those that are efficient — do not
like to be kept guessing. Fed-watchers complained that
FOMC decisions were made in an atmosphere of mystery,

promotes awareness and understanding
of how monetary policy is made.
In recent years, the FOMC has improved
communications with the public. Today,
more than ever before, the Fed reports
more frequently and more thoroughly on
the economy.

A Day in the Life of the FOMC









The Federal Reserve
presents testimony
twice each year
to Congress on
the conduct of
monetary policy.

The FOMC releases
the first semiannual
economic projections.




The Federal
publishes the
first “Beige
Book,” which
conditions in
each Federal
Reserve District.













The FOMC begins to
release a statement
disclosing changes
in the federal funds
rate target.

begins releasing
a statement after
every meeting and
starts to include
an assessment of
the balance of risks
to achieving its


and the supposed reasoning behind the decision.
However, without clear communications, policy
decisions became a source of speculation.
In recent years, the FOMC has sought to improve
transparency about its policymaking. Today, the central
bank is quite explicit in setting out the objectives of
policy and its views on the outlook for the economy.
Here are some significant milestones:



The results of the
FOMC roll-call
vote are added to
the post-meeting




The FOMC speeds
up the release of
its minutes: Now
there is only a threeweek lag, instead of
waiting until after
the next regularly
scheduled meeting,
which meant a lag
of about six weeks.


decides to release
its economic
projections four
times a year.


What’s more, the FOMC now releases Committee

Simply put, the Fed’s open market purchases of

participants’ projections for the economy and

government securities increase the amount of

inflation four times a year, which provides added

reserve funds that banks have available to lend,

insight into the policymakers’ perspectives.

which puts downward pressure on the federal

Clearer guidance about the FOMC’s aims helps

funds rate. Sales of government securities do just the

the economy run more smoothly. Individuals and

opposite: They shrink the reserve funds available to

businesses are able to make their own economic

lend and tend to raise the funds rate.

decisions armed with a better understanding of what
the central bank expects to happen in the economy.

Open market operations affect the amount of money
and credit available in the banking system, thereby

This greater transparency also helps anchor the

affecting interest rates, which in turn affect the

public’s expectations about the economy and the

spending decisions of households and businesses

general level of inflation by explaining the actions

and ultimately the overall performance of the U.S.

the central bank is pursuing.


Transparency also increases the central bank’s

In Closing

accountability to the public. In a democratic society,
it is important that institutions with the delegated
authority to act in the public interest be as clear and
as transparent as possible about their actions. Failing
to do so risks losing confidence and credibility
— two essential ingredients for sound central
bank policymaking. When market participants
understand how the Fed will react to incoming
economic information, policy is more effective.

Putting Policy in Action

A Brief History of the FOMC
Although Congress created the Federal Reserve in
1913, the history of Federal Reserve open market
operations begins in the 1920s when Reserve Banks
started looking for a new revenue source to cover
their operating costs. The Fed is fiscally independent
in that it receives no government appropriations. At
first, the Reserve Banks relied primarily on interest
they earned on loans to banks — called discount
window loans. But over time, they also began to
purchase government securities in the open market
with the intention of earning interest income to cover
their expenses.

President Roosevelt signs the Banking Act of 1933

Soon Fed officials recognized that these open market

open market operations were becoming the main tool

trades had a powerful and immediate impact on

for carrying out monetary policy, overtaking another

So that’s it — a day in the life of the FOMC. We

short-term interest rates and the supply of money

of the Fed’s monetary policy tools: changes in the

hope you have gained some insights into monetary

and credit. By the mid-1920s, the Federal Reserve

discount rate.

policymaking in our nation’s central bank. Now

Banks of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland,

that you know more about how monetary policy

and Chicago had set up a committee to coordinate

In the Banking Act of 1933, Congress established the

decisions are made, you should be able to better

their purchases and sales of securities. This group

name and legal structure of the FOMC as a formal

understand news reports about FOMC meetings and

was called the Open Market Investment Committee.

committee of all 12 Reserve Banks. Then in 1935,

the Committee’s decisions.

Congress determined that the FOMC should include
The group was reorganized several times over the next

the seven-member Board of Governors as well as the

Since the FOMC’s beginnings, the U.S. economy

few years, but this group involved only the Reserve

12 Reserve Bank presidents — bringing together both

and financial system have grown increasingly

Banks, not the Federal Reserve Board. Over time,

centralized and decentralized elements of the central

complex. In response, the FOMC has had to adapt

bank. In the 1935 act, Congress also decided that only

Once the FOMC establishes a target for the federal

its policymaking so that it can continue to achieve

five of the 12 Reserve Bank presidents would vote at

funds rate, the Open Market Trading Desk at the

its policy objectives of price stability and maximum

any one time, along with the seven Governors.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York conducts daily

sustainable economic growth. In the future, since

open market operations — buying or selling U.S.

we can expect our economy and financial system to

Fed Governors are appointed by the President of

government securities on the open market — as

continue to change, it’s likely that the FOMC will

the United States and confirmed by the Senate,

necessary to achieve the federal funds rate target.

continue to have to make adjustments as it seeks to

while Reserve Bank boards of directors appoint

achieve its monetary policy objectives.

their presidents, subject to the Board of Governors’
approval. The FOMC therefore reflects a blend of
national and regional representation as well as both
Federal Reserve Board members, 1914


A Day in the Life of the FOMC

public and private interests.

A Day in the Life of the FOMC 11

A Day in the Life of the FOMC

December 2008