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Among the casualties of the financial crisis were the reputations of the major credit rating agencies. Instead of warning investors about risky mortgage-backed securities, the agencies said they were fine. Yesterday, federal regulators approved a first step to reducing the agency's role.

NPR's Anthony Brooks reports.

ANTHONY BROOKS: The big rating agencies - Moody's Investor Service, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings - were supposed to serve as the nation's financial gatekeepers. But they assigned their best grades, AAA, to some of those disastrously risky subprime mortgage-backed securities, which went bad and helped cause the housing bust.

The landmark financial overhaul law, enacted last month, calls for reducing the influence of the rating agencies. And the first step was approved yesterday by the board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

The FDIC voted to take public comment on a better way to assess the risk that banks are taking. Some say that's easier said than done.

Professor CLAIRE HILL (University of Minnesota Law School): If it was easy to find alternatives, people would have done it a long time ago.

BROOKS: That's Claire Hill, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Prof. HILL: This is not the first time they've goofed. Remember Enron? There's a long history of goofs, and every time there's some story about why they won't goof again.

BROOKS: In fact, before yesterday's vote, FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said the task of replacing the agencies with a better substitute will not be so simple. It won't be quick, either. After the public comments, the FDIC will propose new rules in a process that's expected to take months.

Anthony Brooks, NPR News.

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