Chief Of The Open Mouth Committee

IT WAS ALAN BLINDER'S preemptive strike. Or so say veteran Fed watchers after Vice-Chairman Blinder spoke on Federal Reserve policy on Feb. 17, just five days before Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's annual testimony to Congress on the central bank's monetary goals. "It was unusual," says one former Fed governor. "Greenspan was probably miffed." Neither man would comment.

The timing of Blinder's blabbing is unusual for the traditionally mum Fed. But he's the leading advocate of openness. That's why the central bank's policymaking Federal Open Market Committee is turning into the Open Mouth Committee. Blinder told the Bond Club of Virginia that the Fed may be near the end of its yearlong series of interest-rate hikes. Greenspan, in Feb. 22 testimony, was more circumspect about the future.

Blinder scheduled the speech thinking it would come after Greenspan's testimony. When the chairman's appearance was delayed, he went ahead anyway. Fed sources say Blinder didn't mean to upstage Greenspan, but wants to signal his independence.

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