NCUA Chairman Still Has a Full Agenda

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. - His six-year term on the National Credit Union Administration board officially will expire in April, but don't look for Dennis Dollar to go anywhere soon.

Two years ago this month President Bush appointed him to chair the regulatory panel, and the 49-year-old Mr. Dollar said in an interview that the odds are he will continue to serve until his successor is confirmed. Besides, he said, he still has some things to wrap up - such as expanding the field-of-membership powers and investment options for federal credit unions.

Though his post-NCUA future is undetermined, he has ruled out returning to his native Mississippi and to electoral politics. The former state representative and erstwhile congressional candidate said he was sounded out recently about running for the Senate in the unlikely event that former Majority Leader Trent Lott resigned his seat.

Though Mr. Dollar still has the political bug - he has run for public office four times - his campaigning days are probably over. "I would say it is very unlikely I will return to Mississippi and run for office. I don't see that as an option."

What he does want is to complete some of the initiatives he has introduced at the NCUA.

One is the latest rewrite of its field-of-membership manual, currently out for public comment. This is the second rewrite during Mr. Dollar's tenure. Following the agency's interpretation of the 1998 Credit Union Membership Access Act, it would significantly broaden federal credit unions' markets by allowing industry- or profession-wide fields of membership, expanding their community charter authority, and abolishing the membership overlap protection afforded by exclusionary clauses.

"I want to see greater diversification options for credit unions," said Mr. Dollar, who endorses ever-broader membership powers for federal charters but stops short of the open fields of membership favored by many in the credit union movement. That is up to Congress to resolve, he said.

Next on his agenda would be the finalization of new rules increasing the investment choices for federally chartered credit unions. These rules includes his regulatory flexibility provision, which would let the healthiest credit unions start pilot programs for new investment strategies.

He also hopes that the NCUA board can finalize a rule permitting wider foreign branching powers before his term expires. The rule would make it easier for federal credit unions to serve sponsor groups in other countries, some of whom are now being served in a patchwork manner.

Defense Department credit unions have operated successfully abroad for years and are a proper model for what others might do, Mr. Dollar said.

Still, the field-of-membership issue is what he hears about most on his many road trips, he says. As a result, the question of federal versus state charter is still vigorously debated.

"I think the viability of the federal charter remains an issue because the dual chartering system remains alive and well," Mr. Dollar said. The way to make the federal charter more attractive, he insists, lies not in limiting state charters - as some lawmakers have said - but in helping to make federal credit unions better competitors.

"The answer is not to stop state charters from exercising greater powers," he said. "The answer is to allow federal charters to compete without having to change charters."

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