By Pete Schroeder
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans are taking aim at the regulatory process through which some financial institutions become subject to heightened regulation because they are deemed too big to fail.
In a report released on Tuesday, Republican staff members of the House of Representatives' Financial Services Committee said the current process for identifying systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs) was “arbitrary and inconsistent” and confusing to banks, insurance companies and other financial firms.
The report will be used by committee Republicans, including Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, as they move to overhaul the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that set up the review process. Hensarling has been a vocal critic of the designation process in the past.
The Financial Stability Oversight Council - made up of the heads of the U.S. financial regulatory agencies and run by the Treasury secretary - labels some financial companies as "systemically important." Those are the ones that face heightened capital requirements from the Federal Reserve and other regulators.
On Thursday, the council is set to review the designation process as it holds its first meeting as part of the Trump administration, with new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin now overseeing the panel.
A spokesman from the Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The report asserts that the FSOC has ignored its own rules and guidance and has been inconsistent in how it assesses various firms. As a result, some were tested on one set of standards, while others were treated differently, leading to an opaque and confusing process.
The FSOC's most potent power is "SIFI" designation, which it has used to subject nonbank financial firms such as MetLife and Prudential to stringent Federal Reserve regulations. Large banks such as Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo & Co also are designated as SIFIs, though not via the same FSOC process.
FSOC's designation power has come under fire in the past, MetLife challenged the government following its designation as a SIFI in 2014. A federal district court ruled in 2016 that the government’s designation process did not pass muster. The Treasury Department under then-President Barack Obama had appealed the ruling, which is now pending before an appeals court.
Republican staff on the committee reviewed internal FSOC documents that had not been made public and interviewed several FSOC officials in compiling the report.
(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; editing by Linda Stern and Jonathan Oatis)