The Clinton administration is studying the future of government-sponsored enterprises, including plans to terminate, privatize, or expand them, Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke Jr. said Monday.
Speaking to the Institute of International Bankers, Mr. Hawke said the Treasury Department would create a "set of principles" to guide the administration's approach to the enterprises, which provide a secondary market for home, farm, and student loans, Mr. Hawke said.
"This is a topic of broad interest to us and it ultimately presents a question of interest to taxpayers generally," he said.
The government created the enterprises to meet financial needs that the private sector failed to address, he said. For example, the Student Loan Marketing Association established a secondary market for student loans.
Lawmakers, however, never figured out how to terminate the government's backing for an enterprise once the private sector had entered the market, he said.
Mr. Hawke said Treasury would review whether elected officials or shareholders should decide when to privatize an enterprise, noting that shareholders own the institutions but the government created them.
Treasury also will address when the government should expand the powers of a secondary market agency and when it should charter new enterprises, he said.
Legislation to privatize Sallie Mae brought the issue to the administration's attention, he said. "I don't mean to send a panic," Mr. Hawke said. "We don't plan to come out with anything in the near term."
Mr. Hawke did not provide additional details.
Also at the international bankers conference, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer said her agency plans to launch a special unit within a month that will focus on foreign banks.
In an interview after her speech, Ms. Helfer said the unit would coordinate the examination and regulation of foreign banks.
Nicholas Ketcha Jr., the FDIC's director of the division of supervision, will detail the unit's role and powers in a report within two weeks, Ms. Helfer said.
The new unit will allow the FDIC to stay on top of foreign banking issues, Ms. Helfer said. "Hopefully we can preclude failures that might otherwise have happened," she said.
The unit will not draft new regulations, she said. "It is more of an issue of doing what we currently do better," she said.
The FDIC supervises about 100 state-chartered foreign bank branches.
Both Ms. Helfer and Mr. Hawke also warned of dire consequences if Congress doesn't fix the Savings Association Insurance Fund.
In separate speeches, both officials said shifting just 20% of the deposits in the thrift fund to the Bank Insurance Fund could lead to a default on Financing Corp. bonds.
Ms. Helfer said thrifts shifted deposits to the bank fund during the third and fourth quarters of last year. "For some institutions, the shift has been quite significant," she said.
As reported, Golden West Financial Corp. has moved roughly $800 million in deposits to the bank fund.
Trying to drum up bank support for the thrift fund rescue pending in Congress, Ms. Helfer said the industry has a financial stake in preventing thrifts from entering the bank fund. Shifting thrift deposits dilute a bank fund's base, which means banks must pay higher premiums to keep the fund at $1.25 for every $100 in domestic deposits, she said.