- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alan Greenspan, a die-hard sports fan as well as chairman of the Federal Reserve, got a baseball glove on his last day at the central bank, and a standing ovation.

In return, Mr. Greenspan provided a pep talk, urging Fed employees to keep up the good fight to protect the value of the dollar against the ravages of inflation.

“We have a very special mission,” Mr. Greenspan told about 1,500 employees who filled the two-story marble atrium at Federal Reserve headquarters.

“We are in charge of the nation’s currency, and the central bank, because of that, is involved in everyone’s daily lives. We are the guardians of their purchasing power,” Mr. Greenspan said.

At an earlier luncheon, Mr. Greenspan had told colleagues that he would be looking on from the sidelines and cheering their efforts to do “extraordinary things.”

There was some official business to take care of on his last day. Mr. Greenspan presided over his 149th meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed panel that meets eight times a year to set interest rates.

He was greeted with a standing ovation when he entered to preside for the last time at the Fed’s long conference table. The group, as expected, raised interest rates again, boosting the federal funds rate by one-quarter percentage point to 4.5 percent.

In response, commercial banks raised their prime lending rates by a corresponding amount to 7.5 percent. The increases left borrowing costs at their highest level in nearly five years.

Shortly after the Fed’s rate announcement, the Senate, showing broad bipartisan support, approved on a voice vote Ben Bernanke’s nomination to be the 14th chairman of the central bank. Mr. Bernanke, 52, will be sworn in as Fed chief today in a private ceremony at Fed headquarters.

That will make the changing of the guard at the Fed complete.

A little history was made on Mr. Greenspan’s last day. The famously secretive Fed relented and allowed in news photographers and television cameras for the first time at a Federal Open Market Committee meeting to record Mr. Greenspan’s final session — a fitting tribute for someone who worked during his tenure to make the central bank less secretive.

Mr. Greenspan was presented with an old-fashioned baseball glove signed by the bank presidents. He also was given his board chair with his name engraved on a brass plaque, and the flag that flew over the central bank’s headquarters yesterday.

It wasn’t known whether Mr. Greenspan was overcome with “irrational exuberance” on his final day, although photos showed him smiling broadly, perhaps because the burden of managing the U.S. economy now will fall on the shoulders of his successor.

Although he will turn 80 in five weeks, Mr. Greenspan has no plans to retire. Instead, he will return to what he did during a long career in private business, which is running his economic consulting firm, Greenspan Associates.

He may not have the power to raise interest rates anymore, but he can engage in his other favorite pastime: poring over economic data to divine the future course of the economy.

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