Lockhart said he made the prediction based on comments he heard during Chairman Jerome Powell's news conference on Wednesday where he tackled the emerging COVID-19 Delta variant, inflationary trends, and the ongoing debate about the timing of tapering.
The Fed held its benchmark interest rate near zero and said it would continue to buy at least $120 billion of Treasury securities and other assets each month, a policy known as "quantitative easing" that's designed to keep credit cheap.
Lockhart stressed on Thursday that he believes the Fed will make "the tapering decision based upon their sense of how the economy is performing" and how much progress has been made toward the Fed’s two objectives: stable prices and maximum employment.
Lockhart noted that prices have not been stable and that "the employment gap is still really quite substantial."
"So from their [the Fed’s] perspective, they have not achieved their objectives and need to continue to support the economy in order to do that," he told FOX Business’ Dagan McDowell.
While the Federal Reserve reaffirmed its commitment to easy monetary policies on Wednesday, it suggested it could dial back that support in coming months if the U.S. economy continues to strengthen.
Lockhart also pointed out that the Fed will make the decision regarding tapering bond purchases after also considering "the fiscal stimulus that’s at work in the economy and what it is doing for the economy."
He acknowledged "that having strong fiscal stimulus with very, very accommodative monetary policy is unusual."
"We did not have that back after the financial crisis of 2008 and during that recession and recovery," Lockhart said. "This time it’s different."
"It creates different dynamics in the economy, but they’ll step back and look at the overall position of the economy and decide when it’s time to start tapering," he continued, before stressing that he doesn’t believe that decision will happen immediately.
Wall Street widely expects the Fed to provide more insight into the timing of tapering when central bankers gather in August at their annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Wednesday’s meeting came as a nationwide surge in the Delta variant of COVID-19 rattles investors, who are worried that rising infections could bring about new lockdown measures and a drawn-out economic recovery. The highly transmissible variant triggered a broad market sell-off last week, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling more than 700 points for its worst drop since October.
"The path of the economy continues to depend on the course of the virus," a statement from The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said. "Progress on vaccinations will likely continue to reduce the effects of the public health crisis on the economy, but risks to the economic outlook remain."
At the same time, the Fed is grappling with higher-than-expected inflation after the government reported that prices for goods and services in June jumped by the most in 13 years, fueling concerns that a rapidly rebounding economy could lead to runaway growth. The Labor Department said in its monthly report that consumer prices rose 0.9% from May and 5.4% over the past year.
The concern on Wall Street is that rising inflation could force the Fed to pump the brakes earlier than expected and start pulling back the massive monetary support it's providing for the economy.
While discussing inflation on Thursday, Lockhart argued that given the circumstances over the last year-and-a-half, no one can "expect the Fed or anyone to be a fortune teller with a lot of precision."
Lockhart made the argument while responding to the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s argument that The Federal Reserve missed on inflation.
In the piece published on Wednesday, the editorial board noted that the "latest big miss" by the Fed "has been its failure to anticipate this year’s surge in consumer prices" and pointed to Powell’s acknowledgement at his news conference "that prices had caught the central bank by surprise."
Lockhart noted on Thursday that "forecasting in any circumstance is a very iffy proposition" and "to expect forecasts to hit the nail exactly on the head is just unrealistic in this world."
"Just consider the forces that we’ve been dealing with for the last year and-a-half: a pandemic, extraordinary public health measures, lockdowns and such, a race to develop a vaccine, a reopening from a hibernation, if you will, of the economy and now possibly another wave coming with the Delta variant," he said.
"These are just off the charts, extraordinary circumstances and I really just think it is unreasonable to expect precision in forecasting under those circumstances."
FOX Business’ Megan Henney and Jonathan Garber contributed to this report.