WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve paid the federal government $76.9 billion in 2011, the second highest amount in history. The central bank earned the money from investments made to bolster the U.S. economy.
The Fed reported that the 2011 payment is down from an all-time record of $79.3 billion made in 2010.
Part of the decline reflected lower earnings that the Fed made from its support for insurance giant American International Group, which repaid a loan early last year, cutting the Fed's interest earnings.
The Fed began buying Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities during the recession and 2008 financial crisis to try to lower long-term interest rates.
Fed officials say such unconventional efforts are necessary until economic growth becomes stronger. Critics have charged that those purchases could ultimately contribute to higher inflation.
All the Fed's efforts have pushed the central bank's balance sheet to $2.9 trillion, more than three times the size of the balance sheet before the financial crisis struck in the fall of 2008.
The Fed is funded from interest earned on its portfolio of securities. After covering its expenses, the Fed makes a payment of the remaining amount to the Treasury Department. By contrast to the payments of the past two years, the payment in 2008 was just $31.7 billion.
This year's payment was reduced by the amount that the Fed paid to cover the cost of operating the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a new Office of Financial Research, housed in the Treasury Department.
Both agencies were created by the sweeping overhaul of financial regulation passed by Congress in 2010. Republicans have objected to this approach for supporting the consumer bureau, arguing that the agency should come under the normal congressional budget process like other government agencies.
For 2011, the Fed provided $242 million to operate the consumer agency and $40 million to operate financial research office.