WASHINGTON — The Texas banker that President Bush is expected to name chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. may be close to clearing the final obstacle to nomination: the sale of his $369 million-asset bank, industry sources said Monday.

Don Powell, president and chief executive officer of First National Bank of Amarillo, has reportedly been trying to find a buyer since emerging in early January as the likely nominee for the FDIC chairmanship.

Mr. Powell did not return repeated phone calls, and others at his bank would not comment. But community bankers in the state fingered Wells Fargo & Co. as First National’s probable buyer. Community bankers in Amarillo said that such a deal would make sense because Wells Fargo has no presence in the town but has opened offices in neighboring areas. Wells and its predecessor, Norwest Corp., snapped up 35 community banks in Texas between 1994 and today. Amarillo is considered an attractive market because it is the sole large stop on Interstate I-40 between Oklahoma and New Mexico.

A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo declined to comment.

All FDIC board members must divest bank holdings before being sworn in, but for Mr. Powell that would mean more than simply divesting some stock. As First National’s majority owner, he has to sell the bank. Sources said it might be unwise for him to hold off on selling until he is formally nominated, because prospective buyers would know that he would have to sell First National quickly.

But some sources speculated that Mr. Powell’s nomination may be delayed by more than just the sale of his bank. A source speaking on condition of anonymity said many Texas bankers have heard that President Bush is holding up the nomination because he was displeased that Mr. Powell scheduled courtesy calls with national trade groups, and that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm confirmed Mr. Powell’s selection to reporters.

“Gramm spilled the beans,” this source said. “To prove he is in charge, Bush slowed it down. Besides, Powell got too far out front with his visits in Washington.”

Sen. Gramm is reportedly a close friend of Mr. Powell, and has said he would support his nomination. However, Mr. Powell is also close to President Bush, and few believe that he would be willing to sell his bank were he not confident that he will get the nod.

Mr. Powell, who until last month was also chairman of the board of regents of Texas A&M University, declined to be appointed to another term. Mr. Powell had been picked for that spot by then-Governor Bush in 1995 and went on to be one of his presidential campaign’s fundraising leaders.

Described by colleagues as an excellent dealmaker and savvy businessman, Mr. Powell is not expected to encounter much resistance from Democrats or the industry once he is nominated. But it is almost certain he will have to make known his views on deposit insurance reform, which current FDIC Chairman Donna Tanoue, whose term expired in October, has been pushing. Mr. Powell’s positions on the issue are unknown. The FDIC is expected to release final recommendations to Congress on the subject by the end of the month.

Mr. Powell has been a community banker for decades. He sold his first bank, also named First National Bank of Amarillo, to Boatmen’s Bancshares in the early 1990s. Boatmen’s was later purchased by NationsBank Corp. Mr. Powell left the company in 1997, and said in an interview then that he did not like “the centralization format and the one-size-fits-all approach.” Later that year he started his current bank.


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