Periodic Reviews and Examinations
All Federal Reserve Banks and branches, like commercial depository institutions, are audited and examined regularly.
Internal audits are conducted by a permanent audit staff at each Reserve Bank. Each audit staff is headed by a general auditor who reports directly to the Bank's board of directors. In addition, a private CPA firm conducts an annual examination of each Reserve Bank and its branches on behalf of the Federal Reserve Board. External audits were instituted in recent years in place of annual examinations by the Board of Governors to ensure total independence in this process.
Operations at each Federal Reserve Bank also are subject to review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the audit arm of the U.S. Congress. However, GAO auditors are restricted by law from reviewing monetary policy operations and transactions carried out by the Federal Reserve on behalf of foreign central banks. This restriction was imposed by Congress to assure the independence of the Federal Reserve from political influence.
The Scope of Audits
The scope and frequency of audits are based on the specific risk factors inherent in each Bank's operations, including the nature of the activities it conducts, the prevailing level of controls surrounding these activities, and the quality and experience of the individuals assigned to the operation.
Internal audits at each Reserve Bank involve verification of assets, liabilities, and items held in custody. Auditors check both the physical presence of these items and the timely and accurate reporting of their movement. An evaluation of the adequacy of controls throughout the Bank and of compliance with prescribed procedures also is done. Audits are performed periodically in order to determine if the auditors' perceptions of prevailing risk levels and operating conditions since the last review remain valid. Periodic audits also help to determine whether previously identified problems and issues were adequately addressed and remedied, and to ascertain whether new problems or issues have emerged.
Although auditing procedures differ among the 12 Reserve Banks, their emphases are broadly similar. At the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the audit staff reviews the cash, check, fiscal, electronic payments, and accounting areas, and all of the service and professional operations (which include legal, bank supervision and regulation, and research and statistics). It also audits centralized electronic data processing operations and automated systems under development. These audits consist of reviews of the Bank's data centers, with primary emphasis on environmental software products, including data base systems, operating systems, and data communications systems. Auditors evaluate the strength of internal controls and security of each software product, as well as the procedures and controls put in place by the organizational unit responsible for it. An auditor at the Buffalo Branch reviews activities there.
Audits of automated systems under development similarly concentrate on the adequacy of controls and security. These audits are intended to ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place for each automated processing operation. Audit teams check the accuracy of records pertaining to transactions that flow through the system and certify that systems under development are fully and adequately tested before being placed into production.
Together with two other departments of the Bank, the audit staff controls activities in the Bank's gold vault, which stores about one-quarter of the world's official gold reserves. Auditors monitor all gold transactions, both deposits and withdrawals, and independently verify accounting records and balances pertaining to gold held in custody by the Bank.