Regulators strengthened their year-2000 authority over banks and thrifts Thursday.

Officially, the agencies merely distilled previous guidance, but instructions they published in the Federal Register will make it easier for the government to force recalcitrant institutions into compliance.

Until Thursday a regulator seeking to prod a year-2000-troubled bank had limited options. The agency could take formal or informal enforcement actions, such as a cease-and-desist order, but the bank could delay the procedure by demanding an administrative hearing, which can take a year to litigate.

To bypass this legal chokepoint, regulators incorporated year-2000 guidelines into existing safety-and-soundness regulations under the Federal Deposit Insurance Act. As a result, the four bank and thrift agencies now may issue an order that is "directly enforceable in federal district court," the agencies wrote.

Sandy Comenetz, year-2000 project manager for the FDIC's legal division, said the guidelines set "minimum standards" for compliance. To date, none of the banks subject to FDIC's year-2000 enforcement actions have appealed, she added.

The interim year-2000 guidelines took effect Thursday, but remain open for comment through Dec. 14.

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