Jonathan L. Fiechter resigned Friday from the Office of Thrift Supervision after three and a half years as its acting director.
Mr. Fiechter, 48, will join the World Bank on Sept. 4 as director of its financial sector development department. John Downey, OTS executive director for supervision, will take the agency's reins on an interim basis.
In an interview Friday, Mr. Fiechter said he's been mulling the move for months and finally decided the time was right.
"The challenges the agency faces going forward are in the political arena, and I, as a career civil servant, don't have the necessary clout to get the administration and the Congress moving," he said.
The biggest challenge facing the thrift agency is its survival.
Mr. Fiechter said his exit may hasten plans to merge OTS into the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency - a move he supports.
"The industry and the agency deserve to have the future made more certain," he said, noting it would be tough to coax someone into a political appointment when the agency's existence is threatened.
Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke Jr. agreed.
"In June of an election year it's hard, whatever the job, to find someone willing to make a move let alone go through the confirmation process," he said.
However, Mr. Hawke said, before the agencies are merged, Treasury wants to capitalize the Savings Association Insurance Fund and combine the bank and thrift charters - two politically difficult steps that will take some time.
Mr. Hawke noted the thrift industry returned to health under Mr. Fiechter. "He's done a great job at OTS and I think the new job at the World Bank is one that he is uniquely suited for."
As the agency's acting director, Mr. Fiechter also holds a seat on the five-member board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer praised his "great analytical skills and common sense solutions.
"Jonathan will be sorely missed," she said Friday.
"It's an enormous loss to the OTS and the business," added Paul Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers.
Mr. Fiechter was named the agency's acting director in December 1992. He was twice offered the job as a political appointment - under both the Bush and Clinton administrations - but turned it down.
After he took the job, he didn't move into the director's office for six months, figuring someone else would get the political nod. But no one was ever appointed, and eventually the only thing provisional about his power was his "acting" title.
He joined Treasury in 1972 as a financial economist. He shifted to the Comptroller's Office, where over nine years, he rose to deputy comptroller for economic analysis and strategic planning. In 1987, he joined the supervisory arm of the OTS' predecessor, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.
Mr. Fiechter is credited with building the OTS into a reliable supervisory agency after the savings and loan crisis had ruined the reputation of thrift examiners.
In a town where most people have more enemies than friends, Mr. Fiechter is widely liked and respected. Even though the agency has gone through gut- wrenching downsizing, Mr. Fiechter's honesty and sincerity has made him a hero within OTS.
In his job at World Bank, Mr. Fiechter will help developing countries strengthen their financial systems, including everything from privatizing state-run banks to establishing capital markets.