WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke moved yesterday to break down even further the aura of secrecy that historically has enshrouded the institution that sets interest rates, taking steps to keep Main Street and Wall Street more closely wired to decisions that can make or break lives and businesses.
In the job since February 2006, Bernanke said that the time has come for the Fed to tell the country four times a year - not twice - what its projections are for the health of the economy. And when it gives that forecast, it will say what it thinks the business environment will be for the following three years - not two.
These forecasts - a kind of Fed report card to consumers and businesses - will state the expected pace of economic growth, the anticipated unemployment rate, and whatever policy makers can divine about inflation. However, the Fed also will say expressly - and in unprecedented detail - what the thinking of the policy makers was on a given issue and will furnish more details about whatever risks are in play.
Bernanke called the changes an "important advance" in the Fed's communications strategy. The first expanded set of reconfigured projections will be released Tuesday at the same time the Fed turns loose to the public the minutes of the policy makers' October meeting.
The disclosure marked the biggest move yet by Bernanke to put his imprint on the Fed after succeeding the venerable chairman Alan Greenspan. One Bernanke mark - given a punctuation point yesterday - has been his stated desire to make the Fed a more open institution. Greenspan made progress on that front in his 18 1/2 years, but Bernanke has sought to kick open the door even further.