In the wake of the most significant financial crisis since the Great Depression, the President signed into law on May 20, 2009, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, creating the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The Commission was established to "examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States."
The 10 members of the bi-partisan Commission, prominent private citizens with significant experience in banking, market regulation, taxation, finance, economics, housing, and consumer protection, were appointed by Congress on July 15, 2009. The Chair, Phil Angelides, and Vice Chair, Bill Thomas, were selected jointly by the House and Senate Majority and Minority Leadership.
The FCIC is charged with conducting a comprehensive examination of 22 specific and substantive areas of inquiry related to the financial crisis. These include:
- fraud and abuse in the financial sector, including fraud and abuse towards consumers in the mortgage sector;
- Federal and State financial regulators, including the extent to which they enforced, or failed to enforce statutory, regulatory, or supervisory requirements;
- the global imbalance of savings, international capital flows, and fiscal imbalances of various governments;
- monetary policy and the availability and terms of credit;
- accounting practices, including, mark-to-market and fair value rules, and treatment of off-balance sheet vehicles;
- tax treatment of financial products and investments;
- capital requirements and regulations on leverage and liquidity, including the capital structures of regulated and non-regulated financial entities;
- credit rating agencies in the financial system, including, reliance on credit ratings by financial institutions and Federal financial regulators, the use of credit ratings in financial regulation, and the use of credit ratings in the securitization markets;
- lending practices and securitization, including the originate-to-distribute model for extending credit and transferring risk;
- affiliations between insured depository institutions and securities, insurance, and other types of nonbanking companies;
- the concept that certain institutions are 'too-big-to-fail' and its impact on market expectations;
- corporate governance, including the impact of company conversions from partnerships to corporations;
- compensation structures;
- changes in compensation for employees of financial companies, as compared to compensation for others with similar skill sets in the labor market;
- the legal and regulatory structure of the United States housing market;
- derivatives and unregulated financial products and practices, including credit default swaps;
- financial institution reliance on numerical models, including risk models and credit ratings;
- the legal and regulatory structure governing financial institutions, including the extent to which the structure creates the opportunity for financial institutions to engage in regulatory arbitrage;
- the legal and regulatory structure governing investor and mortgagor protection;
- financial institutions and government-sponsored enterprises; and
- the quality of due diligence undertaken by financial institutions;
The Commission is called upon to examine the causes of major financial institutions which failed, or were likely to have failed, had they not received exceptional government assistance.
In its work, the Commission is authorized to hold hearings; issue subpoenas either for witness testimony or documents; and refer to the Attorney General or the appropriate state Attorney General any person who may have violated U.S. law in relation to the financial crisis.
A report of the Commission's findings is due to the Congress, President and, most importantly, the American people on December 15, 2010.