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What is a GSE?

Adam Hill
Adam Hill

A government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), also referred to as a state-owned enterprise, or a government-owned corporation, is a legal entity created by a national or state government to undertake business activities on the government's behalf. A GSE may be fully or partially owned by the government, depending on the circumstances and the guidelines set forth by the governing body. The GSEs in the United States are a group of companies in the financial services industry that were created by the Congress.

The U.S. Congress created the first GSE, the Farm Credit System, in 1916. Every GSE in the U.S. is created with the goal of overcoming inefficiencies and imperfections in the capital markets. Some of the best-known GSEs in the U.S. are those that deal in mortgage finance: Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the 12 Federal Home Loan Banks. These companies have trillions of U.S. Dollars (USD) on their balance sheets, and the federal government possesses warrants, which would give it a nearly 80% share of these companies, should the government choose to exercise the warrants. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the United States Postal Service are also GSEs.

The first government-sponsored enterprise, the Farm Credit System, was created by Congress in 1916.
The first government-sponsored enterprise, the Farm Credit System, was created by Congress in 1916.

A GSE carries the implicit backing of the U.S. government, although they do not constitute direct government obligations. For budgeting purposes, the U.S. Congress has defined several parameters which an organization must comply with in order to be considered a GSE. It must first have a federally authorized charter. It must also be privately owned, in the sense that private individuals or entities must hold the controlling stock. A board of directors, mostly elected by private owners, must be at the head of it. Also, it must be a financial institution with the power to borrow and lend.

There are a few things that a GSE must not do, if it is to be considered just a GSE and not a government entity. It cannot exercise powers that are reserved to the government in the U.S. Constitution, such as the power to regulate interstate commerce or the power to levy taxes. Its employees are not federal employees, and their salaries are paid by the business activities of the enterprise. A GSE also does not have the power to commit government money to loans unless such a guarantee is made beforehand by the government. In practical terms, all these things also imply that a GSE benefits from an implicit guarantee from the government to facilitate borrowing, although this is not part of the stated definition.

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Discussion Comments


I swear I read long ago that Starbucks was a GSE but searching today can find no links. Is there a list somewhere of these companies that we can see where our money is going and who is making a profit?

Should GSEs be involved in social issues or political campaigns?


@strawCake - Just because a business is a GSE doesn't necessarily mean it's going to do better than privately owned businesses. After all, it's still a business, even though it is authorized to do business on behalf of the government. I mean, look at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They definitely weren't immune to the recession that took place in 2009!

Anyway, even if a business starts off as a GSE, it can eventually become a private business. For example, Sallie Mae started off as a GSE but became a private company in 1995. Maybe if the USPS starts doing really poorly it will take this route and downsize by a lot.


I had no idea the United States Postal Service was considered a GSE and not a government entity! How interesting. I guess this means it has a board of directors and private citizens own the controlling stock. Also, I suppose the employees of the postal service aren't federal employees, although I always thought they were.

I have to wonder though, how long this particular GSE is going to continue to be around. More and more people are using e-mail these days, and there are private companies like Fed-ex and UPS that compete with them. From what I've heard recently, the USPS isn't doing so well. You'd think as a GSE they would be doing better!

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    • The first government-sponsored enterprise, the Farm Credit System, was created by Congress in 1916.
      By: steheap
      The first government-sponsored enterprise, the Farm Credit System, was created by Congress in 1916.