The Federal Reserve: "Everyday Economics"
Independent Within Government
The Federal Reserve System was structured by Congress as a distinctively American version of a central bank, established to carry out Congress' own constitutional mandate to "coin money and regulate the value thereof". Part of the Fed's uniqueness is that it is decentralized, with Reserve Banks and branches in 12 districts across the country, coordinated by a Board of Governors in Washington, D.C.
The Fed has a unique public/private structure that operates independently within government but not independent of it. The Board of Governors, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, represents the public sector, or governmental side of the Fed. The Reserve Banks and the local citizens on their boards of directors represent the private sector. This structure provides accountability while avoiding centralized, governmental control of banking and monetary policy.
The Federal Reserve is fiscally independent because it receives no government appropriations. The Fed funds its activities with the interest earned from loans to banks and investments in government securities and from the revenue received from providing services to financial institutions. The Fed's financial goal in providing services is to generate only enough revenue to cover costs. Any excess earnings - money made above the cost of operations - is turned over to the U.S. Treasury.
The Fed's Structure.
The seven-member Board of Governors is the main governing body of the Federal Reserve System. It is charged with overseeing the 12 District Reserve Banks and with helping implement national monetary policy. Governors are appointed by the president of the United States, one on Jan. 31 of every even-numbered year, for staggered, 14-year terms.
Each Federal Reserve Bank has a board of directors, whose members work closely with their Reserve Bank president to provide grassroots economic information and input on management and monetary policy decisions. These boards are drawn from the general public and the banking community and oversee the activities of the organization. They also appoint the presidents of the Reserve Banks, subject to the approval of the Board of Governors. Reserve Bank boards consist of nine members: six serving as representatives of nonbanking enterprises and the public (nonbankers) and three as representatives of banking. Each Federal Reserve branch office has its own board of directors, composed of three to seven members, that provides vital information concerning the regional economy.
Who Owns the Fed?
Banks that hold stock in the Fed are called member banks. All nationally chartered banks hold stock in the Federal Reserve. State-chartered banks may choose to be members, upon meeting certain standards. However, holding Fed stock is not like owning publicly traded stock. Fed stock cannot be sold or traded. Member banks receive a fixed, 6 percent dividend annually on their stock, and they do not control the Fed as a result of owning this stock. They do, however, elect six of the nine members of Reserve Banks' boards of directors.
Who owns the Fed then? Although it is set up like a private corporation and member banks hold its stock, the Fed owes its existence to an act of Congress and has a mandate to serve the public. So the most accurate answer may be that the Fed is "owned" by the citizens of the United States.