Work of the Commission
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was created to “examine the causes of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States.” This work of the Commission was intended to provide a historical accounting of what brought our financial system and economy to a precipice and to help policy makers and the public better understand how it came to be.
The Commission’s statutory instructions set out 22 specific topics for inquiry and called for the examination of the collapse of major financial institutions that failed or would have failed if not for exceptional assistance from the government. The Commission’s report fulfilled these mandates. In addition, the Commission was instructed to refer to the attorney general of the United States and any appropriate state attorney general any person that the Commission found may have violated the laws of the United States in relation to the crisis. Where the Commission found such potential violations, it referred those matters to the appropriate authorities. The Commission used the authority it was given to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documents, but in the vast majority of instances, companies and individuals voluntarily cooperated with this inquiry.
In the course of its research and investigation, the Commission reviewed millions of pages of documents, interviewed more than 700 witnesses, and held 19 days of public hearings in New York, Washington, D.C., and communities across the country that were hard hit by the crisis. The Commission also drew from a large body of existing work about the crisis developed by congressional committees, government agencies, academics, journalists, legal investigators, and many others.
The Commission conducted research into broad and sometimes arcane subjects, such as mortgage lending and securitization, derivatives, corporate governance, and risk management. To bring these subjects out of the realm of the abstract, it conducted case study investigations of specific financial firms—and in many cases specific facets of these institutions—that played pivotal roles. Those institutions included American International Group (AIG), Bear Stearns, Citigroup, Countrywide Financial, Fannie Mae, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Moody’s, and Wachovia. The Commission also looked more generally at the roles and actions of scores of other companies.
The Commission also studied relevant policies put in place by successive Congresses and administrations. It also examined the roles of policy makers and regulators, including at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (and its successor, the Federal Housing Finance Agency), the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Treasury Department.
The Commission’s hope is that readers can use its work to reach their own conclusions, even as the comprehensive historical record of this crisis continues to be written.