Demystifying the Federal Reserve

Christian Zimmermann

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

American Library Association, Chicago, June 26, 2017

What is the Federal Reserve System?

What is the Federal Reserve System doing?

What is the Federal Reserve System doing for you citizen?

What is the Federal Reserve System doing for you librarian?

What is the Federal Reserve System?

  1. Board of Governors
  2. 12 Regional Reserve Banks
  3. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)

  1. Boston
  2. New York
  3. Philadelphia
  4. Cleveland
  5. Richmond
  6. Atlanta
  7. Chicago
  8. St. Louis
  9. Minneapolis
  10. Kansas City
  11. Dallas
  12. San Francisco
Fed History | Why two banks in Missouri?


Independent federal agency, 7 Governors nominated by POTUS and confirmed by Senate, plus staff.

Regional Fed

Private corporation created by act of Congress, President nominated by regional board of directors, approved by Board of Governors. Who owns the Fed?

FOMC Secretariat

Committee, 12 members (7 Governors, NY Fed Pres., 4 rotating Reg. Fed. Pres.) plus Board staff.


23K people. Economists, statisticians, IT, accountants, editors, librarians, developers, educators, communicators, lawyers, maintenance, clerks, administration, and more.


Expense: $6.7B, Income: $99B, Remittance to Treasury: $91.5B, Assets: $4.5T (2016)


Yes indeed

What is the Federal Reserve System doing?

Federal Reserve Act of 1913

"An Act To provide for the establishment of Federal reserve banks, to furnish an elastic currency, to afford means of rediscounting commercial paper, to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes."

"The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open Market Committee shall maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates." (amended language)

Also, various mandates from US legislative or executive

What is the Federal Reserve System doing for you citizen?

  1. Monetary policy (FOMC+)
  2. Supervision of financial institutions
  3. Payment system and cash
  4. Economic Research and statistics
  5. Consumer protection (CFPB)
  6. Community development
  7. Economic and financial education
  8. Fiscal agent of the Treasury

Purposes and functions of the Fed | The Fed in plain English

What is the Federal Reserve System doing for you librarian?

  1. Bibliographic resources
  2. Data resources
  3. Education resources
  4. Useful
  5. Fun

Bibliographic resources

Each Bank and the Board publish research documents, explainers, etc. Typically easily found on each banks' site, in particular in the respective Research Divisions.

Data resources

In-house data for the public

Many Feds calculate some indicators, typically most relevant to their district. Examples of broader interest:

In-house data for internal consumption

  • Survey data (businesses, banks, consumers)
  • Banking data: balance sheets, stress tests
  • Fed transactions, lending
  • Fed forecasts
  • Purchased data
General rule: Only (approved) Fed employees can access it. Outsider may co-author work on this data, but cannot view it. Data never leaves the Fed.

Data aggregation and dissemination

  • FRED One-stop shop for data, from county to countries, with graphing tools and more
  • ALFRED Same with vintage data
  • GeoFRED Maps of FRED data
  • Real-Time Data vintage data
  • CADRE Dataset curation ("Data Museum")
  • Most Feds also collect data relevant to their district. See their websites, typically under "research and data" or "community development"

Education resources

If Americans understand better their economic environemnt, they will fare better and the economy as a whole as well. Thus it is part of the mission of the Fed to provide economic and financial education. Material may cover pre-K to adults.