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U.S. financial risk council adopts new transparency measures

By Sarah N. Lynch and Emily Stephenson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. financial risk council adopted new transparency measures on Wednesday, after critics raised concerns the group was too secretive about its decision-making process.

In a unanimous vote, the Financial Stability Oversight Council agreed to give the public seven days' notice about upcoming meetings and agenda items. It also said it would start publishing "read-outs" from closed-door sessions.

"The council is committed to working in an open manner," said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who chairs FSOC.

The regulatory council was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law to keep an eye out for emerging risks.

It comprises the top U.S. financial regulators, including the heads of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve.

The group can designate large financial firms as "systemic," or so big that their failure would threaten the financial system. That tag imposes tougher regulations.

Since the panel handles sensitive financial data, it is exempt from rules requiring government agencies to give notice of upcoming meetings.

The council does publish an annual report about its actions and seeks public comments on new rules. Its current policy, in place since 2010, called for open meetings whenever possible.

But members of Congress, such as New Jersey Republican Representative Scott Garrett, and several SEC commissioners have complained they are not permitted to attend closed-door sessions or participate in the policy-making process.

Members of FSOC, such as SEC Chair Mary Jo White, routinely participate in meetings. Staffers from all of the FSOC-member regulators who are tapped as "deputies" also meet separately.

The council's members determine who from their agencies and outside may attend closed meetings. Last month, Garrett introduced legislation that would allow certain lawmakers and other regulators who are not FSOC members to attend.

At an event on Tuesday, Garrett railed against the group, which is considering whether to dub large asset managers like Blackrock and Fidelity as "systemic."

He said the new transparency measures were "better late than never" but that he expected they would be "merely window dressing."

'DISPROPORTIONATE INFLUENCE'

The FSOC's policy changes on Wednesday mirror some recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office in two previous reports. The office, which serves as a government watchdog, suggested keeping more detailed records on closed meetings and boosting communication with the public.

Still, the changes are not likely to satisfy some critics.

SEC Republican Commissioner Michael Piwowar said on Wednesday he was rejected again when he asked permission to attend the closed-door meeting held earlier in the day, and that he would keep pressing for access.

"The banking regulators exert disproportionate influence on FSOC activities, and a strong voice for transparent, efficient, and vibrant capital markets is needed to counterbalance the Federal Reserve's non-member attendees," he said.

Roy Woodall, the FSOC's independent member and insurance expert, said Wednesday he was "sympathetic" to fellow regulators who "feel they have been excluded."

"I remain interested in working with my colleagues to broaden our intra-government transparency," he said.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)

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