Fed weighs news conferences in tranparency push

WASHINGTON Wed Apr 15, 2009 7:59am EDT

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivers a lecture to a group of economics students at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in this April 14, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Erik S. Lesser

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivers a lecture to a group of economics students at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in this April 14, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Erik S. Lesser

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve have discussed holding regular press briefings to help improve public understanding of unusual actions by the Fed in times of crisis, a Fed official said on Tuesday.

Press conferences have been weighed among other ideas, the official said. The Fed has sought during recent upheaval to explain its actions to a broader public, the official said, citing Chairman Ben Bernanke's recent television interview and willingness to take questions from reporters after a speech.

The Fed also took the unusual step on Tuesday of publishing excerpts of Bernanke's speech Tuesday at Morehouse College in Atlanta in a newspaper, USA Today.

The Fed's consideration of press conferences was first reported in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn has headed up efforts to improve the U.S. central bank's communications to the public. A new Website provides greater detail about the Fed's books than was available before.

The Fed has also been under pressure from lawmakers to provide more information about some of its lending.

The U.S. central bank currently issues quarterly forecasts for economic growth, inflation, and employment over a three-year period. Following two of those forecasts, the Fed chairman testifies before Congress.

The other two forecasts might be appropriate occasions to hold briefings for media, the official said, stressing that the idea was merely under consideration and had not risen to the level of likelihood.

The Fed's expanded efforts at communications come as the central bank has lowered benchmark interest rates to near zero as part of unprecedented efforts to stabilize markets during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and to pull the economy out of a recession that officially began in December 2007.

With the Fed's traditional interest rate setting tool exhausted, officials believe there is greater reason to show that Fed actions are consistent with its traditional role of ensuring sustainable growth and maintaining price stability.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Additional reporting by Emily Chasan in New York; Editing by Gary Hill and Bernard Orr)

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